Mind and Brain
A. J. Malerstein, M.D.
Distribution of this manuscript without permission of the author is prohibited by copyright law.
Downloading and/or printing for personal use is encouraged.
This book is dedicated to my long time friend and colleague Mary Ahern
I am grateful to the colleagues, friends and family members Lise
Blumenfeld, Joe Campos, Phillip Cowan, Steven Pulos, and my daughter Julia
Halsne who read different versions of this book, offered suggestions, and
encouraged me. I am particularly grateful to Gareth Hill and Kay Blacker whose
overall assessment of the penultimate form of the book helped me to reorganize it
into its present form, to Fabrice Clement for his patient listening to me as I
struggled with certain concepts regarding consciousness, and for his careful reading
of the previous version of this book. Herb Bengelsdorf s critique of the revised
Chapter 4 has helped me put it in its current form.
I want to thank Diana Baumrind for her counsel and for her allowing me
access to the Family Socialization Project Archives, without which Mary Ahern and I
could not have done the empirical studies of our theory of character structure
formation. I want to thank Josephine Arasteh and Susan Rivera for their assistance
with the studies, and Joan Martin for her repeat editing of the earlier versions of my
book, and for her abiding encouragement of my effort to write this book. I want to
thank Irene Elmer for her skilled and thoughtful editing of the unrevised version.
Finally, I want to thank Julia for her enabling me to publish the previous version of
this book on the net, and Norman Buangan for the imaginative design of the
reconstituted Web site for the revised edition.
A. J. Malerstein, M.D.
Part I: Toward An Organic Explanation Of Conscious Cognitive Development
Chapter 1 Each Child Constructs His Or Her World..............................................................................11
Piaget’s Scheme .....................................................................................................................11
The Nature of Early Schemes................................................................................................12
Neuronal Circuits in the Brain...............................................................................................16
The Neuronal Circuit and the Scheme ..................................................................................17
More About Schemes, or the Activation of Neuronal Circuits ...........................................18
Chapter 2 The Infant’s Undifferentiated World ......................................................................................27
Stages 1 to 3: The Cumulative Mode....................................................................................27
A More Differentiated Way of Understanding the World...................................................30
The Differentiation Is Incomplete .........................................................................................32
Chapter 3 A Brain Change That Contributes To Reorganization In Cognition .................................34
Complete Myelination of the Sensory Tracts Stabilizes Activation ...................................35
The Primary Visual Area (V1) Cells of the Cerebral Cortex—Selective Gates Into the
More about Stage 4 ................................................................................................................40
Chapter 4 Consciousness From A Mechanical Device.............................................................................42
Sleeping, Waking, and the Reticular Activating System.....................................................42
A Constructivist View of Consciousness .............................................................................43
Consciousness Constructed From the Waking State............................................................46
Chapter 5 Percept and Mental Image Differentiation .............................................................................56
Piaget’s Mechanism ...............................................................................................................56
Returning to the Two Mysteries............................................................................................59
Other Theorists’ Ideas About Self-Object Differentiation ..................................................61
Chapter 6 Cognitive Organizations After the Sensorimotor Period ...................................................65
The Preoperational Period .....................................................................................................65
The Concrete Operational Period ..........................................................................................69
The Formal Operational Period .............................................................................................70
Chapter 7 A Second Brain Change That Assists Reorganization of Cognition ...................................72
Equilibration and Emotion.....................................................................................................73
Piaget’s Special Mechanisms ................................................................................................77
Complete Myelination of the Major Sensory Tracts to the Cerebral Cortex .....................84
My Hypothesis .......................................................................................................................85
Chapter 8 Conscious and Unconscious Cognition ....................................................................................88
Most Cognition Is Unconscious ............................................................................................88
Is Consciousness Distinct From the Waking State?.............................................................91
Where are our Memories, Where are our Schemes, and How do we Find Them?............92
Dreams and the Persistent Vegetative States........................................................................96
Part II: Character Structure And Treatment
Chapter 9 Cognitive-Motivational Structures........................................................................................105
The Three CMS Types.........................................................................................................106
Second-Order Cognition ......................................................................................................109
Caregiving and CMS Type ..................................................................................................109
Chapter 10 Testing CMS Theory .............................................................................................................113
Relative Frequency of CMS Types .....................................................................................113
Attachment Theory and CMS Theory Take Different Bites of the Apple .......................115
Chapter 11 Application of CMS Theory To Treatment ........................................................................120
Understanding The Patient's CMS Type and Defining The Problem To Be Treated ......122
Differential Treatment Approaches And Goals of Treatment...........................................123
Case Examples .....................................................................................................................126
Appendix A Vignettes Of Persons Who Were Assessed In Our Studies.............................................131
Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and Mrs. C.................................................................................................131
Categorizing Mrs. A, Mrs. B, and Mrs. C ..........................................................................132
Appendix B CMS Subjects And Data For Testing .................................................................................135
Oakland Growth Study ........................................................................................................135
Family Socialization Project................................................................................................135
A Word About Longitudinal Studies ..................................................................................136
PART I: TOWARD AN ORGANIC EXPLANATION OF CONSCIOUS COGNITIVE DEVELOPMENT
EACH CHILD CONSTRUCTS HIS OR HER WORLD
As may be gleaned from the overview, it is my belief that all we have are the
constructs that we have in our heads. I, like most of you, believe that there is a real
outside world. But all that we know of that world and of our selves is our own
constructs. During the course of development, each of us constructs a world and a
self through interaction with a particular outside world and especially with other
persons within that world.
A most remarkable aspect of Jean Piaget s work was his proposal that
psychological development is a constructive process. That is, he proposed that
during development, very primitive organizations in the nervous system, through
interactions between themselves and interactions with the outside world, transform
themselves into more sophisticated organizations constructs of a world of distinct
objects, including constructs of self as an object. The interactions take place via the
nervous system. The nervous system both limits and enables intrapsychic
constructions of the self and the world that generally work fairly well for one to
survive and to reproduce.
Piaget used a language that is unfamiliar to most experts in psychology,
psychiatry, neuroscience, or philosophy let alone those who are not experts in these
fields. To understand Piaget s work, particularly his explanation of how
the child constructs objects that make up his world, including his self, it is
essential to understand his concept of the scheme.
Piaget s Scheme
The scheme was Piaget s basic building block. In attempting to understand
the development of cognition, he began with primitive schemes undifferentiated
psychological structures and traced their organizational changes from birth to early
Piaget s scheme is a hypothetical, organized, holistic intrapsychic structure
that is analogous to a biological cell or organism. The workings of schemes are
couched in biological terms, such as assimilation the taking in of what is needed to
sustain the scheme just as cells and organisms take in what is needed for their
sustenance. Although assimilation ordinarily refers to the process of digestion, not to
mind or brain processes, it captures the sense of how the scheme operates as it
interacts with other schemes and with the external world. A scheme is like a cell or
organism that ingests what it can. Later in this chapter, I will show how Piaget s
language may be translated into the language of neuroscience.
From children s spontaneous behavior, and from their responses to many
homey experiments, Piaget inferred the organizational level of the child s schemes at
particular points in cognitive development. In one experiment, he positioned a
child s bottle so that the nipple was not visible to the child. Early in development,
the child does not turn the bottle in order to suck the nipple. Later, the child does
so. From the later behavior, Piaget inferred that the child s scheme of seeing the
nonbusiness end of the bottle was assimilated to was now part of the scheme of
seeing and sucking the business end of the bottle. In another experiment, he
dropped his watch chain into his hand and made a fist as his daughter watched. She
opened his hand and took the watch chain. He repeated the experiment with a
change. He dropped the watch chain into his hand, passed his closed fist under a
coverlet, where he dropped the chain, brought his fist out, and presented his fist to
his daughter. Each time he did this, his daughter opened his fist, but she did not
search under the coverlet for the chain. At this point in development, his daughter s
scheme of the watch chain was not a distinct object scheme. Her scheme of the
chain was not distinct from her scheme of having seen the watch chain go into his
hand. He did similar experiments with all three of his children, varying all the
parameters the objects that were hidden, the types of screens, and their locations.
From such experiments it appears that, at this point in development 8 12 mo. , the
child s scheme of having seen an object is not distinct from the child s scheme of
having seen that object disappearing under a screen for example, into the hand.
Confirming and challenging Piaget s findings and his interpretations of his
findings fostered an industry in developmental psychology. Many developmental
psychologists find his work controversial. Some of these psychologists argue that
their particular findings show that the child begins life with knowledge of a world
composed of separate, solid objects not that the child must construct such
knowledge. Others propose that very young infants understand simple addition and
subtraction. Some investigators dismiss Piaget s findings in infants, because most of
his observations and experiments involved just his own three children. Nonetheless,
to date, Piaget s study of his children remains the unparalleled microgenetic day by
day, achievement by achievement longitudinal study of very early cognitive
development. Many of his findings have been replicated in studies of other infants
Decarie, 1965; Uzgiris & Hunt, 1975 . Studies of older children done by Piaget and
his colleagues on somewhat larger, less biased samples have not resolved the
controversy, partly because Piaget did not use statistics. Clearly, I am not the first
nor will I be the last to quarrel with some of Piaget s interpretations and yet be
inspired by him. There is reason to believe that he would be satisfied with such a
legacy satisfied that he inspired so many other researchers to do their own work.3
The Nature of Early Schemes
Piaget proposed that the newborn s schemes center on the sucking, grasping,
light seeking, and hearing reflexes. Light seeking and hearing are not as obvious
reflexes as are sucking and grasping. But if we think of the newborn s looking toward
a light as visual activation being connected to the extra ocular muscles that control
movement of the eyes, then light seeking is very much like the sucking or grasping
reflex in which touch elicits a muscular response. Light seeking is evident by about
the sixth day when the infant tends to keep his eyes aligned with a light as he passes
by it Piaget, 1963 . Similarly, hearing is not as clearly a reflex as are sucking and
grasping, since the infant is not able to equalize sound to both ears by moving his
head until he is about 2 months old.
In the discussion that follows, primarily, I use the sucking scheme to illustrate
Piaget s conceptualization of the scheme and scheme development. I do so because
Two of my own experiences shed light on Piaget’s values. In 1976, I heard him address 3,000 members
of the Jean Piaget Society in Philadelphia. Many of these people might have been inclined to be his
champions. But when each of his close associates spoke, he or she emphasized that Piaget did not want his
legacy to be a cult. When Piaget himself spoke, rather than rally the crowd, he provided an introduction to
the work that two young colleagues then presented.
After his death, I lamented that so many of Piaget’s ideas had become part of the scientific body of
knowledge without investigators recognizing the origins of the ideas. That is, Piaget was not getting any
credit for his having formulated these ideas. Anastasia Tryphon—one of his collaborators—responded,
“Perhaps, he would be pleased.”
early sucking is the usual center of cognitive emotional development. As Rochat
2001, p. 52 put it, The mouth is a privileged locus of learning. And Bornstein and
Infants as young as one month are influenced in which of two shapes to look
at if one of the two matches a shape the babies had just explored orally. Indeed,
observing a five month old in action, one comes away with the impression that in
this stage of infancy both vision and reach are in the employ of oral exploration. An
object is not fully appreciated until it has been mouthed 2000, p. 7 .
Although the sucking scheme is prototypic, it is not the only scheme that may
be pivotal in a particular child s beginning construction of his or her world. For some
children, grasping, looking, or listening may be the initial focus of cognitive
organization. White 1969 did a longitudinal study of infants in a foundling home.
Once a week, he offered a colorful, cylindrical toy to each infant. The infants did
not bring the toy to their mouths as frequently as they watched their hands and the
toy. At about 4 months they gazed at the toy more often than they grasped it.
Children also showed a tendency to gaze at the favored hand even when the object
was in the other hand. Apparently for the majority of these children, their primary
cognitive scheme was looking and the favored hand . Blind children and swaddled
children must build their worlds of somewhat different sensorimotor activations
than other children do.
To comprehend Piaget s theory, it is critical to understand two of his basic
ideas.4 One, the early scheme is undifferentiated and global that is, primitive. Two,
primitive as the early scheme is, to the infant that undifferentiated scheme is
the/an object. It is this early, primitive scheme that, in stages, differentiates into
schemes that are distinct for different objects, including a scheme or schemes of
the self that is distinct from other objects.
The nucleus of the sucking scheme is composed of intrapsychic activation
directly related to sucking sensory stimuli that come from the mouth and any
intrapsychic reflection of the control of muscles of the tongue and of the mouth.
The newborn s sucking scheme, however, includes a great deal more than the
nucleus. The sucking scheme assimilates takes in any cotemporaneous activity
patterns. It also assimilates any pattern of sensorimotor neuronal activity that
resembles an activity pattern that was part of the sucking scheme in the past. In this
way, the sucking scheme becomes widespread and diverse in an infant, and varies
from one infant to another.
The newborn s sucking scheme includes patterns of sensory activation from
touch of the nipple; from swallowing: from taste and warmth of the milk; from smell
of the milk; from touch of milk dribbling down the chin; from warmth and touch
activation from mother s adjacent body; from the child s sucking sounds; and from
emotions that accompany satiation or hunger. It comes to include patterns of stimuli
from position sense that is, sensory stimuli that signal changes in head, neck, and
body position and any intrapsychic feedback of motor control that directs those
changes in head, neck, and body position. The scheme may include patterns of
stimuli from the mother s cooing, and even from ambient light. The sucking scheme
includes not only sucking on a nipple, but also sucking on the fingers or thumb, on a
block, and so on. When the sucking scheme is active, it is, to a varying extent, all of
these many and diverse activations. 5
These ideas would be the same if grasping, looking, or listening, rather than sucking, were the primary
organizing sensorimotor scheme.
It is conceivable that if many components of the sucking scheme are active when no sucking behavior is
manifest, most of the essentials of the sucking scheme may still be active. However, we have no index of
To repeat: To the infant, this sucking scheme, as global and undifferentiated
as it is, is the object. It is the nipple, the breast, or the bottle or sometimes all three.
This is a very strange object, compared to later object schemes. When the
infant sucks an object, her sucking scheme is not just the nipple, but also, to a
significant extent, the finger and the block. At the same time, it is both the scheme
of the object being sucked and the scheme of the self doing the sucking. Note that
this self is also an object.
Piaget charted the transformations that such initial undifferentiated object
schemes undergo as they become increasingly distinct for different objects, including
the self as an object. In stages, these schemes reorganize themselves as they interact
with the world via the sensory end organs and the motor control of behavior of the
body and with each other. They reorganize themselves into distinct schemes of
different objects, and into schemes of attributes e.g., size, amount, color of objects.
This includes schemes of the self as an object, and schemes of the attributes of the
Put another way, from the interaction of such primitive schemes with each
other and through sensory and motor contact with the external world including the
social world , the child constructs her particular world, her self, and the attributes of
both her self and her world. The early global and undifferentiated scheme is the
anlage of self and world an earlier, more primitive structure that transforms into
more sophisticated structures just as the embryo is the anlage that transforms into
Any current pattern of activation that has some past or present relationship
to the sucking scheme is nutrient or aliment for the scheme. Such aliment sustains the
scheme as food sustains a biological structure. Although a scheme requires aliment
for sustenance that is, maintenance the scheme does not become the aliment, any
more than we become cattle by eating beef. One kind of aliment may be frequently
assimilated to a scheme; another kind of aliment may be seldom assimilated to that
scheme. The kind of aliment that may sustain a scheme is highly variable. In one
child, the sucking scheme is sustained by the sucking of the hand; in another, it is
sustained by sucking all of the fingers, and so on. In one child the scheme may be
sustained by a propped bottle; in another by a breast. In a specific child, the kind of
aliment that will sustain a scheme is, in large measure, unpredictable.
Although the scheme requires aliment for sustenance, it accommodates to
nuances of the aliment that it assimilates and is thereby modified. Evidence of
accommodation of the sucking scheme is the child s shaping his or her mouth
differently when sucking a nipple than when sucking a finger, or the child s becoming
more skilled at sucking a nipple, a finger, or a block. The sucking scheme
accommodates to patterns of differential sensorimotor activation arising from
sucking a finger or a block, along with patterns arising from sucking a nipple. When
the sucking scheme is next activated, it is ready to assimilate aliment from a finger or
a block as well as from a nipple. The scheme has adapted. Through assimilation of
aliment and accommodation to aliment, a scheme adapts. All behavior is adaptation and all
adaptation is the establishment of equilibrium between the organism and its
environment Piaget, 1981b, p. 4 .6
Piaget s pseudodigestive model of the psyche the way in which the scheme
assimilates and accommodates captures the quality of an active, holistic
intrapsychic process. The scheme is active in the sense that it is considerably self
directed. The scheme assimilates at its own organizational level, and allows
organizations that are beyond its level to pass it by. Initially, the wooden block or
I would substitute “most” for “all,” to allow for the acquisition of behavior that is incidental but not
seriously maladaptive; and for the retention of behavior that works in one situation, but becomes
maladaptive in later situations.
the truck is to suck. Later, the block is to slide and the truck is to roll on the floor.
The scheme is holistic. Given a scheme s level of organization, it assimilates as much
and as varied aliment as the current organization can somehow connect to.
The scheme concept provides for the conservation of existing structure, yet
allows for the development or modification of that structure. The fact that the
scheme is an open system, allows it to be influenced by both the environment and
When the young infant sucks an object, her scheme of that object her
object includes all past and present patterns of motor and sensory activations
occasioned by encounters of her mouth with her finger, a nipple, a block, and so on.
Her scheme includes any other patterns of activation that were or are cotemporaneous
with such encounters for example, activation patterns from emotions,8 from
waking, from sleeping, from warmth, and so on:
During the elementary stages of consciousness things are much less
apprehended in their own form than is the case with the adult or child who talks.
There is not a thumb, a hand, a ribbon... N ew objects...have no peculiar or separate
qualities Piaget, 1963, p. 141 .
The young infant s scheme is undifferentiated. There is no sharp distinction
between subschemes, such as past or present, sucking a block or sucking a finger.
The undifferentiation, however, is not absolute. Ordinarily, one does not elicit
grasping by stroking the infant s cheek, or elicit sucking by touching the infant s
palm. There is also some differentiation due to accommodation. The child sucks a
nipple differently than she sucks a block or a finger. It is also possible for two
schemes for example, sucking, grasping, and looking schemes to be
simultaneously active, yet not be part of each other. If that is the case, they soon
become part of the same scheme, as when the infant brings the hand that grasps to
the mouth that sucks,9 or by leaning forward brings the mouth that sucks to the
hand that is looked at, and so on. In the early stages, almost everything is, to some
degree, connected to is part of everything else. 10
Fundamentally, Piaget s scheme bonds psychology and psychological
development to its biological roots. The newborn s schemes center on reflexes, and
schemes are analogous to biological structures in their function. That is, like
biological structures, they assimilate, accommodate, and adapt.
I propose that the operation of Piaget s scheme may be readily translated into
current theory that information, and what to do with information, is stored in the
activation of the neuronal circuits of the brain. Piaget never explicitly proposed that
a scheme might be identical to the activation of a neuronal circuit, although it is hard
to believe that he did not have this in mind. I, and other students of Piaget s work,
believe that the two are identical.
In later chapters, I will suggest how maturation of sensory tracts could play roles in differentiation of
If the activation is positive or negative, that emotional valence is part of the scheme. Different authors
have defined emotion, affect, and feeling differently. I will use emotion as the generic term and reserve
affect and feeling to refer to conscious emotion.
Rochat (2001) contends that bringing the hand to the mouth is innate, that it need not be learned.
This statement follows from Piaget’s position that the early schemes are global and undifferentiated,
although he wrote of separate oral and visual spaces that had to be brought together.
Neuronal Circuits in the Brain
The nervous system is the control system for higher animals. The structural
components of this control system are neurons cells that conduct electrical impulses
from one cell to the next. The extension of a neuron that conducts electrical
impulses to another neuron is called an axon. The neurons that receive impulses are
referred to as being downstream. See Figure 1. Neuron A s axon conducts impulses
downstream to neuron B. Neuron B s axon conducts impulses downstream to
neuron C, and so on. Neuron B is downstream from neuron A. Neuron C is
downstream from neurons A and B. Between each pair of neurons is a very small
functional gap, the synaptic space. When the electrical impulses reach the end of
neuron A s axon, they cause the release of chemicals called neurotransmitters into the
synaptic space. The neurotransmitter chemicals pass to the other side of the
synapse, where they are received by receptors on neuron B. These receptors are
located either on the surface of the body of neuron B or on extensions of neuron B,
called dendrites. If neuron B is in a responsive state when it takes up a sufficient
amount of a neurotransmitter, neuron B will transmit electrical impulses down its
axon to the synapse between itself and neuron C. Some synapses are inhibitory; if a
sufficient amount of a neurotransmitter is released into the synaptic space, the effect
will be to inhibit the downstream neuron rather than to excite it.
There are about a hundred billion neurons in the human cerebral cortex and
many hundreds of billions of synapses. Hence, there are many, many hundreds of
billions of interconnections between the neurons. These interconnections form
complex interrelated sets of neurons called neuronal circuits. Many neuroscientists
believe that learning memories and what to do with memories reside in
activations of neuronal circuits. They believe that learning is dependent on the
strength of connections between the neurons of interconnecting circuits.
In 1894 Ramon y Cajal proposed that repeated activation of one neuron by
another increased the strength of connections between them Kandel, Schwartz, &
Jessel, 2000 . Currently this theory is known as the Hebbian hypothesis Hebb, 1949 .
The specific mechanisms that explain why activation of a neuron increases that
neuron s responsiveness to reactivation are not entirely settled. Nonetheless, many
findings support the hypothesis that electrochemical mechanisms at the synapse
account for such responses, and hence account for learning Brembs et al., 2002;
Kandel, 200411; LeDoux, 1996; Rioult Pedotti, Friedman, & Donoghue, 2000; Shi,
2001 . Nothing has been found that contradicts the hypothesis that a neuronal
circuit that activates another circuit facilitates subsequent repetition of this same
relationship. Huttenlocher and Dabholkar 1997 found that in early life, the
cerebral cortex contains an abundance of synapses. This abundance of synapses
declines in older children. Loss of synapses that are not activated is another
probable mechanism involved in learning. Both the long term strengthening of a
synapse by repeated activation of that synapse and the pruning of synapses that are
not used are probably involved in learning in the consolidation of memories and
what to do with memories. 12, 13
The Neuronal Circuit and the Scheme
According to Piaget, as I explained earlier, the scheme will assimilate to itself
any activation that is similar to it. I will propose that this responsiveness of the
scheme may be understood as the equivalent of Hebb s hypothesis that activation of
a neuronal circuit increases that circuit s tendency to be reactivated.
For example, a 7 month old may repeatedly strike a suspended object with
her foot or her arm and watch the object swing. Consider the scheme of that 7
month old who strikes an object with her foot. The infant s current striking of the
object with a foot and watching the object swing, along with any pleasure that she
gets from doing so, is aliment. According to Piaget, this aliment is assimilated to any
past similar schemes. For example, it is assimilated to the scheme that includes, at
the very least, past motor control of the leg, proprioception from the leg and foot, 14
touch activation from the foot, visual activation from the retina, proprioception
from and control of the eye muscles when watching a similar moving object, and
In the sea snail, whose nervous system consists of only 1012 neurons that are invariant in their
connection, Kandell worked out the biochemical and neuronal details involved in short term and long term
learning. If the siphon of a snail is touched, the snail withdraws its gill. If the siphon is touched 5 to 10
times, the withdrawal action will decrease or cease. The reactivity of the neuronal circuit involved will be
less responsive. If touching of the siphon is followed by a shock to the snail’s tail, the withdrawal will be
vigorous. If this pairing of stimuli is repeated two or three times, the vigorous response to touch of the
siphon will last minutes. In either case, release of the amount of neurotransmitters alters, but there is no
If a snail’s siphon is touched ten times for four days the number of knobs that release neurotransmitter
chemicals into the synapse are reduced and the decrease in withdrawal lasts for weeks. Similarly, if the
snail is subjected to pairing of siphon touch and shock to the tail five or more times, the vigorous
withdrawal to touch of the siphon will last for days, a cascade of chemical changes takes place in the
neurons involved, and the number of their synaptic knobs increase.
Learning in the mouse is not as fully understood, but presumably will involve up or down regulation of
synaptic structure in long term learning.
Buzs’aki and Draguhn (2004) argue that in the mammalian cortical circuit oscillations influence
information handling, including selection of input, linkage of neurons into circuits, and plasticity of
Measured by Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), an accelerated increase in gray matter—areas of the
brain that contains neurons, hence synapses—takes place during the first 18 months and then again just
prior to puberty—at about 11 in girls and 12 in boys (NIMH, 2001). The MRI employs a powerful
magnetic system that may be used to visualize different brain structures, usually based on their water
content. This accelerated increase in grey matter suggests that the brain may offer a second major
opportunity to prune synapses.
Proprioceptive stimuli arise from movement of the muscles and joints—that is, they are sensory stimuli
that arise from a change in position of parts of the body.
positive emotions. Simply put, a previously active scheme that has some relationship
to the present activation is reactivated by the present activation.
Now let us look at this example from a neurophysiological point of view.
When the infant strikes an object with her foot, this activates a particular set of
sensory and motor neuronal circuits in the brain. Thereafter, each time that she
strikes an object with her foot, the neuronal activations that this entails will
automatically involve many of the same neuronal circuits that were involved earlier.
That is, many of the same circuits that were involved earlier are reactivated.15
According to Hebb s hypothesis, if many of the same neuronal circuits are
reactivated, later reactivation is more likely, because the synapses have been
strengthened. Hence it is as if previously activated neuronal circuits assimilate current
similar activation. Because previous activation increases the likelihood of
reactivation, it is as if the activation were aliment for the circuits.16
Reactivation, however, never occurs in exactly the same way twice. This is
true even when the infant is striking with the same foot and watching the same
object. Thus reactivation could be expected to modify existing neuronal circuits,
strengthening some parts of a neuronal circuit more than others. Accordingly, the
circuits change a bit. They appear to accommodate, just as Piaget proposed that schemes
do. The changed neuronal circuit is then ready to be reactivated by the later
activation patterns along with the old pattern. The neuronal circuit the scheme has
Thus, neuronal circuits appear to assimilate aliment, accommodate, and adapt. I see
no difference between the activation of neuronal circuits and Piaget s scheme.
More About Schemes, or the Activation of Neuronal Circuits
A Scheme, Where it is Stored, and How it is Accessed
Although any given type of scheme for example, the sucking scheme is
similar for all infants, the aliment the activation of particular circuits that sustains
a scheme varies greatly from infant to infant and varies considerably in each infant
from time to time. The aliment that an infant assimilates, the particular neuronal
circuitry that is activated by sensorimotor interactions with different objects,
depends on an infant s innate predisposition as well as on his own experiences. The
aliment involves many and different sources of activation. Thus its corresponding
neuronal circuitry is located in widespread regions of the brain, which may be
accessed by many and varied connections.
One infant sucks his thumb, another his entire hand, and so on. One infant is
languid. Another is very active. One infant arches his back to cause a mobile
attached to the bed to move. Another strikes at the mobile with his foot.
One infant is allowed to suck his thumb. Another is offered a pacifier. One
infant is breast fed; another is bottle fed. One infant s bottle is propped up on a
I am suggesting that an agglomeration of many different brain regions or nuclei in the cerebral cortex, the
midbrain, and the hindbrain are reactivated. Some regions or nuclei are subject to modification through use;
others are much less so.
Piaget’s use of the terms nutrient or aliment to refer to the content that is assimilated to a scheme is
consistent with recent neurophysiological findings. Merzenich (1998) found that maintenance or
sustenance of even mature cerebral cortical networks (in monkeys) may require repeat activation.
Otherwise the nerve cells that had activated an area of the brain lose their dominance to their neighboring
nerve cells. When Merzenich prevented stimuli from the middle fingers of monkeys from reaching the
sensory areas of the cerebral cortex that they ordinarily activated, stimuli that originated from the fingers
adjacent to the middle fingers activated these cortical areas.
pillow. Another s is held in his mother s hand. One infant is talked to while feeding.
Another is played with. Accordingly, each infant has different aliment for sustenance
of his sucking scheme or neuronal circuit. Any one infant may have all of these
experiences. Each infant, over time, has different kinds of aliment for sustenance of
his sucking scheme or neuronal circuit.
Such differences in predisposition and in environment imply that any given
type of scheme is highly variable in content the aliment that sustains it. Hence the
location of a scheme the activation of its corresponding neuronal circuitry in the
brain varies and is spread across many parts of the brain. This is so from infant to
infant, but is also so from one time to the next in each infant. See Figures 2 and 3 for
the usual locations of different sensory and motor activations.
In each instance, the components of the sucking scheme include variations in
activation of touch, proprioception, motor control, sight, warmth, and so forth.
These variations necessarily activate, or are activated by, very different parts of the
brain, including very different parts of the cerebral cortex. The sensory areas of the
cerebral cortex that responds to touch of the hand excluding the fingers and to
touch of the fingers are close, but they are not the same. The various motor and
sensory regions of the brain that are active when an infant is sucking the breast are
vastly different from the regions that are active when an infant is sucking from a
bottle that is propped up.
If the aliment that sustains the neuronal circuitry that corresponds to a
scheme is variable and widespread, two things follow. First, although to begin with
the nucleus for the scheme is a particular reflex, the scheme in its totality is content
addressable.17 Current and past aliment, or content, determines the location of
neuronal circuit activation.18 Second, under different circumstances, reactivation of
the neuronal circuitry that corresponds to a scheme may be through components,
which may be located in very different parts of the brain. Access to a scheme or
reactivation of a scheme may be constructed of different parts from one time to the next.
Here is an example of how neuronal circuits vary from one child to another.
At about 3 months, Piaget s son would grasp an object that he saw, provided that his
It is conceivable that it could have several, somewhat separable addresses.
This contrasts with computers, in which anything that is recorded and what to do with what is recorded is
hand was in view. His sisters did not do this until they were 4 to 6 months old.
Piaget proposed that his son s precocity, compared to his sisters, could be explained
by the fact that, before he was 3 months old, he often studied his clasping his hands
in front of him. The particular neuronal circuits that must be modified in order for
him to learn to grasp an object when both his hand and the object were in view
would necessarily be simpler than those of his sisters, who did not engage in the
Thelen 1998 and her colleagues traced the steps involved in successfully
reaching for a ball. These steps began with the infant s sight of the ball, which gave
rise to mouth movements. She reported that her colleagues, Blass and Jones, found
that when an infant s hand was touched, the infant opened his mouth. They also
found that visual stimulation triggered hand movement, mouth movement as Piaget
had discovered earlier , and tongue protrusion. These findings suggest that the
newborn s neuronal circuits are widespread, connecting different sensory and motor
Newborns vary greatly in their activity levels and in the particular kinds of
spontaneous activity that they engage in. Like Piaget s son, some infants tend to
study their hands. Others do not. Some infants flail about. Accordingly, the infants
in Thelen s study required very different types of muscular coordination in order to
reach for a ball. Yet Thelen found that at about 4 months 12 24 weeks each child
made a successful reaching movement to get the ball and bring it to his mouth. To
reach the ball, however clumsily as they did so to begin with, these infants had to
modulate their arm movements. Thelen s associate Spencer charted the infants use
of different muscles over time. He found no consistency with respect to the muscles
that were used in reaching. The only built in constant involving motor movement of
the arm was a relationship of shoulder torque to elbow torque. The outcome
successful reaching for a ball was the same, but the coordinations involved in
getting there were idiosyncratic.
This relationship of shoulder to elbow torque may be a prewired component
of the complex achievement of learning to reach for an object. To successfully reach
for an object, which coordinates very different neuromuscular combinations
different starting positions of the arms and different speeds of prereaching
movements must be constructed of sensing and control of very different body
parts. That is, the sensing and the control activations must be located in different
areas of the brain in different infants, and in the same infant at different times.
Brain Modules Are They Predetermined?
As I noted earlier, not every developmental theorist agrees that we must
construct our selves and our world anew. Some theorists propose that
differentiations of self, objects and attributes are in place at birth. Others propose
that, at appointed times, certain brain regions modules are predestined by our
genes to generate these differentiations.
There is no doubt that the mature cerebral cortex is to some extent a modular
organ; certain functions in the mature brain are space dedicated to a particular
region of the cerebral cortex. In most adults, damage to a particular region of the
left cerebral cortical hemisphere Wernicke s area results in impairment in
understanding written and spoken language, but no impairment in vision or hearing.
Similarly, damage to another region Broca s area in the left cerebral hemisphere
results in impairment in speaking and writing, but no impairment in understanding
spoken or written language. See Figure 2. Damage to V 1 the primary visual area
in the left hemisphere will result in blindness in the right half of the visual field. See
Figures 2, 4, and 5. Each of these areas of the brain also has its own maturational
schedule. Presumably, these schedules are, to a great extent, programmed by genes.
Genes often do not directly determine function. Often genes appear to offer
options that may be exercised or not, or that may be exercised differently, depending
on other factors. Later in this book, I suggest a type of maturation, which
presumably is under the control of the genes and that assists a major social cognitive
shift. The maturational factor offers a mechanism for assessing certain options, but
it does not determine which social cognitive style that is, how the person thinks
about certain social issues will be adopted. I will propose that the social cognitive
style that is adopted is adaptive for a particular individual in his or her family setting.
There is considerable plasticity in what are usually function dedicated
modules. In adults who were blind from early infancy, visual cortex was activated by
reading Braille Sadato et al., 1998 and by attention to sounds Kujala et al., 1995 . In
congenitally deaf adults whose primary language is sign language, auditory association
cortex was activated by signs for words Petitto et al., 2000 . Von Melchner, Pallas,
and Sur 2000 used a complex surgical protocol that rewired the auditory cortex of
newborn ferrets to receive stimuli from the visual tract. When the ferrets were
adults, the cellular pattern of their auditory cortex resembled the cellular pattern of
visual cortex. Further, the investigators found that, when the visual routes to the
cerebral cortex were severed, the ferrets processed visual stimuli using the auditory
In short, modularity appears to be predisposition, not absolute
predestination. Modularity is probably the result of a cascade of timed interactions,
some of which are genetically triggered, but some of which are dependent on the
Luria s Functional Modules
Any discussion of brain module function would be incomplete without a
reference to Luria s 1966 localization of cerebral cortical functions. Luria extended
the work of his predecessors Sechenov, Pavlov, and Vigotsky as he synthesized
the findings of many other psychologists and neuroscientists with his extensive and
innovative studies of brain damaged adults, including 800 patients who had suffered
gunshot wounds to the head.
Luria distinguished two uses of the term function. One use is exemplified by
the statement that the function of the cells of the retina is to respond to light. The
second use of function refers to an organism s complex adaptive activity for
example, locomotion, perception, or cognition. In each instance, the adaptive
activity may be done in any one of various ways, the exact way being determined by
Luria s studies of the cerebral cortex were aimed at localizing this second type
of function. He addressed the localization of three fundamental functional systems
or analyzers the acoustic analyzer, the optic analyzer, and the sensorimotor
analyzer. A type of behavior that results from damage to, or electrical stimulation of,
a particular area of the cerebral cortex, demonstrates merely that that the behavior is
related to that particular area. Luria stressed that the relationship does not
demonstrate that control of that behavior resides solely in that particular area.
F or a function to be disturbed it is sufficient, in practice, for any one link in a
complex functional system to be broken p. 70 . Similarly, many different sources of
activation may ordinarily contribute to the organized control of a particular
Perhaps Luria s most striking ideas involved the function of the motor
analyzer. He proposed that the core of motor control in the cerebral cortex resides
in the coordination of the primary motor area with the primary somatosensory
touch and proprioception area; that in terms of function, they were a unit. See
Figures 2 and 3 for the location of the primary motor and sensory areas, and for the
massive association areas, which lay between the primary motor and sensory areas.
In the past, because damage to a particular location of the primary motor area
resulted in paralysis of a limb, it was thought that motor control of that limb resided
in that particular location. Luria marshaled considerable evidence phylogenetic,
developmental, anatomic, lesion, and electrical stimulation studies to show that the
primary motor and somatosensory areas of the cortex are designed to work as a
functional unit. For example, simply extending a limb involves proprioception, not
just the motor function. If the primary somatosensory area of a limb is damaged, the
limb muscles will pull against each other in an uncoordinated fashion. Damage to
the somatosensory area of the limb is not confined to loss of sensation from the
limb. Luria showed that the motor and sensory association areas of the cortex must
work together to organize complex voluntary behavior.
Luria did similar analyses and syntheses of the acoustic analyzer and the optic
analyzer, and the ways they overlap with one another and with the motor analyzer.
The details of his work, his incorporation of the work of other investigators, and his
remarkable synthesis of detailed clinical and experimental findings into holistic
Of interest is neuropathological evidence that, deprived of visual activation for the first 3 months, parts
of the cat’s visual system atrophy and the cat is unable to see forms (Weisel & Hubel, 1963). And in
humans, failure to correct strabismus early results in poor visual acuity in the eye that is not used. The
nervous system often operates on a use-it-or-lose-it basis.
concepts are beyond the scope of this presentation. Suffice it to say that Luria s
functional modules of the brain are very large, that they overlap one another, and
that they are very much like Piaget s schemes.
The thesis of this chapter has been that Piaget s concept of the scheme uses a
language that may be translated into the language currently used to explain brain
function. I have proposed that the scheme may be seen as identical to the activation
of neuronal circuitry.
How is a thought represented in such a system? Freud 1934a proposed that
thinking is an experimental way of acting. According to his theory, thought of an
activity would be the moving of objects around in one s mind, just as one moves
furniture around in the physical world. Instead of walking to the fridge and opening
the door to get some food, one moves one s self intrapsychically, crosses the room,
opens the door, and so on.
The movement of the self and the door all takes place in one s mind, rather
than in the external world. Thinking is interiorized action. 20
Information processing of computers reminds us that representations are a
function of the medium. Representations do not necessarily resemble that which is
represented. In a computer doing word processing, objects such as letters and
words, and what to do with them are just patterns or programs controlling open and
closed switches. In the brain, objects, including letters and words, and what to do
with them are probably activations of neuronal circuits and of the interrelationships
among those circuits. In keeping with such an understanding, one may think of the
intrapsychic movement of an object that is, of the idea of movement as an
ordered array of changes in neuronal ensembles that occur when an object moves in
relation to other objects. In the brain walking to the fridge and so on is a sampling
of the many interfaces or relationships between interrelated sets of stimuli from lines
and colors of light, from proprioception of muscle and joint movement, from touch
of this and that, and so on. Piaget s constructivist approach lends itself to this kind
of unconscious or conscious content to the concept that the idea of the object and
its activity are active by virtue of arrays of definitions of relationships between this
object and other objects, present and past. These arrays of definitions may be
grouped. But their grouping need not resemble the form of a body moving to the
In the next chapter, I review the first four stages of Piaget s Sensorimotor
Period. During the Sensorimotor Period, undifferentiated schemes transform
themselves into increasingly differentiated schemes as different objects. As I review
the first four sensorimotor stages, I will propose how maturation of a sensory tract
probably assists the differentiation of schemes as different objects. My proposal
explains how a kind of brain maturation affects cognitive development. I will also
remind the reader what an object is like at each stage. In chapters 3 and 4, I will
show how an examination of the sensorimotor stages of development may clarify the
relationship of mind to brain.
Interiorized is not to be confused with internalized. Internalized refers to a form of behavior that
originally belonged to a person’s construct of the outside world that becomes part of her construct of the
self. Interiorized refers to a behavior of a person that no longer shows, but is presumed to continue to
operate as mental images or thoughts.
THE INFANT S UNDIFFERENTIATED WORLD
Piaget divided cognitive development into four periods. He called them the
Sensorimotor Period 0 2 years ,21 the Preoperational Period 2 7 years , the Concrete
Operational Period 8 11 years , and the Formal Operational Period 12 years adolescence
or early adulthood .
In this chapter, I describe Piaget s first four sensorimotor stages and Piaget s
interpretation of the quality of the child s understanding the organization of her
cognition during each stage. To me, the shift in cognition that takes place between
Stage 3 and Stage 4 is a fundamental reorganization. The importance of this shift
will become clear in chapter 3, when I explain how complete myelination of two
sensory tracts to the brain assists Stage 3 to Stage 4 reorganization.
The Sensorimotor Period consists of six stages.22 The schemes of the
Sensorimotor Period begin in a very undifferentiated and global state, and, in stages,
they restructure themselves as they interact with the world via the child s sensory
and motor systems. These stages culminate in Stage 6 16 24 months , when the
mental image scheme of an object is basically differentiated from the perception
scheme of that object, and when schemes of different objects, including the self as an
object, are basically differentiated from one another.
As I noted in chapter 1, not everyone agrees that such cognitive
differentiations occur slowly, or that they occur in steps. Some researchers and
theoreticians assert that even newborns understand the difference between different
objects, including the difference between the self and other objects. I discuss this
assertion later in this chapter, and in chapters 4 and 5.
Stages 1 to 3: The Cumulative Mode
In Stage 1 of the Sensorimotor Period 0 1 month , children practice their
reflexes. Gradually they get better at sucking, at grasping, and at following a moving
light with their eyes.
Although they are endowed with the sucking reflex, newborns vary in their
ability to suckle the breast effectively. Piaget charted this ability primarily in his son,
who, in the first few hours after birth, suckled effectively when his mouth and
tongue contacted the nipple. By day 9, he differentiated objects that he encountered
with his mouth. He rejected a cloth, but sucked his own hand. When his cheek was
touched, he searched in the direction of the touch, and became more precise and
rapid in finding the nipple. On day 20, he sucked on the skin of the breast briefly,
then moved, sucked briefly, then moved again until he located the nipple.
All ages given here are approximate.
Unless otherwise indicated, all examples of Sensorimotor Period behavior
cited here are drawn from Piaget s trilogy 1954; 1962; 1963 , which he regarded as one
study. The examples that I cite are only a very few of the many examples that Piaget
reported. Some of his observations were confined to only one of his three children.
Most often, he studied all three children and varied the studies systematically before
he concluded what characterized the child s cognition during a particular stage of
That same day, Piaget offered his finger to his son, who was moderately
hungry. After sucking for a few seconds, his son rejected the finger. He did this
twice, but then sucked for several minutes, until Piaget removed his finger. The same
day and the following day, Piaget s son sucked his thumb contentedly for extended
periods. To the infant, it appears that there is little difference between the schemes:
sucking the breast and swallowing milk, sucking his own thumb and swallowing
saliva, and sucking someone else s finger and swallowing saliva.
Only initially, when the infant rejects the foreign finger, does the infant
appear to differentiate the finger from a nipple. Nonetheless, this initial behavior
indicates that, to some extent and at least temporarily, the sucking scheme when
hungry is differentiated from the sucking scheme when not hungry.23
The disquiet an emotion or proto emotion that accompanies the hunger
probably guides the differentiation the distinction between sucking a finger and
sucking the nipple. Emotion, which is closely tied to the physiology of the organism,
may interrupt what is not working in this case, sucking on a finger when hungry. It
is appropriate to think of schemes as being cognitive emotional at least as early as
day 20. Indeed, Piaget argued that cognition is never devoid of emotion, and
emotion is never devoid of cognition.
The infant s behavior on day 25 and 26 also indicated some scheme
differentiation, based on whether he was hungry or not. On day 25, when he was not
particularly hungry, he made only a cursory attempt to find the nipple. The
following day, when he was very hungry, he invoked all his skills, including his new
ability to raise his head a bit, in his search for the nipple.
So, added to what is intrinsic to sucking e.g. proprioception from the mouth
or swallowing and what is adventitious e.g. warmth of an adjacent body or
ambient light the sucking scheme includes improved abilities to search and find the
nipple plus, when hungry, some temporary distinction of objects the finger, breast
and nipple and some states that an outside observer would ascribe to the self
satisfaction and dissatisfaction.
In Stages 2 and 3 the reflexes appear to open up, as the infant repeats
adventitious sensorimotor encounters. For example, in Stage 2 2 4 months , an
infant who has, by chance, extended her arm and grasped the edge of a blanket may
grasp and let go, grasp and let go. The scheme of grasping assimilates the scheme of
extending the arm. It might be more appropriate to say that the grasping scheme and
the extending the arm schemes assimilate each other. Activation of touch, of
proprioception, and of motor control neuronal circuits that are involved in grasping,
as well as, activation of proprioception and of motor control neuronal circuits that is
involved in extending the arm are all part of the Stage 2 scheme. Similarly in Stage 2,
an infant may repeatedly thrust out and suck her tongue or a bolus of saliva. The
sucking scheme and the thrusting or extruding scheme assimilate each other.
The object, the tongue or the bolus of saliva, like the extruding and sucking
are all part of the sucking scheme, not separate objects, and not one belonging more
to the outside, while the other belonging more to the self.
The behavior of infants in Stage 3 5 8 months looks as if it were
intentional not automatic. If an infant happens to strike a hanging object with her
hand or foot, causing it to swing or to make a sound, or if she strikes her crib with
the same result, she repeatedly strikes and watches or listens. Striking schemes and
looking or listening schemes assimilate each other. The child may then vary her
striking as she watches or listens. The two different sensorimotor schemes
accommodate each other.
Mostly, I will stay with Piaget’s language, although throughout the book, scheme may be translated as
activation of a neuronal circuit.
Sated with this activity, a Stage 3 child may make a swinging movement with
her hand appearing to imitate the swinging of the hanging object or make an
abbreviated striking movement. It is as if the child were saying, I could make it
happen again if I wanted to. If a child at this age were thinking this, she would be
intending her actions. This would mean that the 6 or 7 month old child understood
certain self object relationships for example, that she was causing the hanging
object to swing. If she were intending her actions, or if she understood that she was
causing the hanging object to swing, she would be differentiating the scheme of her
self from the scheme of another object that is, the hanging object.
Piaget questioned whether this was the case. He did several experiments to
see if the Stage 3 child understood how the scheme of the self was related to the
scheme of another object that is, to see if the child understood that her striking
action caused the movement of the object. In one experiment, he found that if the
child was accustomed to strike with her arm or leg to cause an object to move or to
rattle, she would strike when she saw the object, even when the object was too far
away to be affected. In another experiment, he tied a string to his child s arm and
connected the other end of the string to a suspended object. She had great fun
moving her arm and watching the object swing. He found, however, that whether
the string was made lax or taut had no effect on the child s action in response to
seeing that object. She continued to move her arm when she saw the object.
Further, he found that each child had her own repertoire. While lying in a crib, one
child arched her back or rolled her head, which caused an object that was attached to
the crib to move. Another child struck out with her arm; another with a leg or both
legs. When a new object was presented, each child went through her own particular
routine, regardless of which object was presented, whether the object was out of
reach, and whether the child was physically connected to the object.
Piaget concluded that in Stage 3, children are merely striking while watching
or listening, and watching or listening while striking. That is, he concluded that the
watching or listening schemes are assimilated to the striking scheme, and that the
striking scheme is assimilated to the watching or listening schemes that children in
Stage 3 do not understand their relationships to objects.
In a different type of experiment, Piaget placed a toy under a screen while the
Stage 3 child watched. It should be understood that when I use the word toy in
reference to Piaget s experiments, I intend toy to represent any object that interests a
child. He used various toys, e.g. a watch or a ducky. If part of the toy was visible,
the Stage 3 child retrieved the toy. If the screen covered the toy entirely, the child
did not search under the screen unless her hand grazed the toy, or unless she was
making a grasping movement as the toy disappeared. Instead, the child might
whimper or look at Piaget s hand.
In Stage 3, the child s hand touching the toy and her watching Piaget s hand
are both part of the scheme of the toy, as is seeing a piece of the toy protruding from
under the screen. To the child, touch, proprioception, and motor control of her
hands, as well as vision, proprioception, and motor control of her eyes, are all part of
the scheme of the toy at this stage. There is no clear differentiation of the schemes
of different objects the toy and Piaget s hand or the toy and the self that touches it
or that makes a grasping movement.
Piaget proposed that in Stage 3, when a toy disappears behind a screen, the
scheme of the toy enters the void. By entering the void, Piaget meant that the Stage 3
child s world is one in which things such as toys and persons materialize and
dematerialize. Some part of the child s scheme, however, must still be active after
the object disappears, since Piaget reported that after the toy disappeared, the child
whimpered and/or looked at Piaget s hand.
What is it like to live in a Stage 3 world, a world in which schemes of
different objects are not distinct from one another? Piaget referred to the infant s
repeated striking of an object, while watching it or listening to it, as making interesting
spectacles last. For the infant, perhaps this is like watching and listening to
semirandom fireworks, while experiencing activations from proprioception and
fluctuating motor control, plus some pleasant excitement accompanying this sensory
and motor spectacle.
Rochat 2001 wrote that Piaget, like William James, the father of American
psychology, thought of the infant s global and undifferentiated state as a booming,
buzzing confusion. But to experience confusion, one must have a sense of a unity
that is lost. To slip from focus to focus, or from scene to scene, is not necessarily any
more confusing than watching the landscape slip by from a moving train. In fact,
Piaget s scheme, undifferentiated and global as it is, assimilates that which suits it at
its particular level of organization. Assimilation of what approximates an already
existing scheme provides organization, not disorganization not William James s
booming, buzzing confusion. It is as if the infant has an agenda the fitting of input
into what the infant has already constructed. A booming, buzzing confusion is what
adults would experience if they were to suddenly experience the world as the Stage 3
As the schemes of the first three stages assimilate and accommodate, they
tend to enlarge the child s repertoire, as when the child sucks different objects or
strikes different objects to produce new spectacles. Even when a child rejects a
behavior for example, when the hungry child refuses to suck a finger the child s
repertoire may be thought of as enlarged. Being hungry and halting sucking becomes
part of the sucking scheme. The sucking scheme now includes a possible negative
valence under certain circumstances.24
In Stage 4, the ordering or articulation of schemes begins. In Stage 4, two
new types of behavior make their appearance. These two new types of behavior
indicate that the child is beginning to make distinctions between the schemes of
different objects, including the self as an object.
A More Differentiated Way of Understanding the World
In Stage 4 8 12 months , children search for a toy after watching it being
hidden under a screen when no part of the toy is visible. They no longer have to see a
part of the toy, or to have grazed the toy with a hand, or to have been in the process
of making a grasping movement. The Stage 4 toy scheme is more distinct from the
Stage 3 self scheme s touching the toy, making a grasping movement, or seeing a
piece of the toy. In addition, the Stage 4 toy scheme is more distinct from the
scheme of other objects for example, the hand scheme that placed the toy under
To record the “this” of “do this” as a part of the same scheme as “don’t do this,” and just add a positive
or negative valence—a yes or a no—is a more efficient way to process schemes than to have separate
schemes for “do this” and “don’t do this.” In adults representation by opposites is a hallmark of
unconscious processing. In rats, “extinction of long-term memory … is subserved by the same brain region
that subserves the acquisition and consolidation of that same memory,” (Berman and Dudai, 2001, p.
2419). Opposites have almost the same locations in the cerebral cortex. Further, measured by a functional
MRI (fMRI) in adult humans, the fusiform face area of the cortex—an area that is ordinarily activated by a
picture of a face—is activated equally by the picture of a body with a blur where a face would be (Cox,
Meyers, & Sinha, 2004). (The fMRI measures blood flow. Blood flow is increased in a brain region when
the neurons of that region are more active.) The face and its context—the face and what it is not, or what it
is related to but distinct from—activate the same area of the cortex. As Schiller (1952, p. 207) put it, “To
define a whole, we have to take into account what it is not, as well as what it is.”
A second type of behavior also indicates that the child is beginning to
distinguish between schemes of different objects. In steps, a Stage 4 child learns to
set aside an object to get at a more interesting object. For example, when Piaget s
son attempted to reach a toy, he depressed an intervening pillow. This permitted
him to retrieve the toy. When presented with the same problem, he depressed the
pillow again. About 2 weeks later, he struck aside intervening objects to obtain a
desired object. Apparently he distinguished between simultaneously active schemes
of different objects for example, the pillow and the toy.
The distinctions between simultaneously active schemes of different objects
are far from absolute in Stage 4. But the examples noted above indicate that the
child has begun to make such distinctions. The child both differentiates and
articulates simultaneously active schemes the scheme of the screen and the scheme
of the invisible toy, and the scheme of an intervening object to be acted upon before
acting upon the scheme of a desired object. The screen scheme that is lifted is
differentiated from the toy scheme, just as the intervening object scheme is
differentiated from the desired object scheme. From the same behaviors, we may
conclude that these schemes are articulated connected to each other by a particular
relationship no longer merely assimilated to each other. The child must lift the
screen or strike the intervening object before grasping the toy.
Intention, in the sense of purposefulness, is clearly manifest in such
selections. The child has begun to distinguish between the scheme of the self and
the schemes of other objects. In Stage 3, touching the toy, making a grasping
motion, and even having to see a part of the toy are parts of the scheme of the
nascent self. In Stage 4, when the child searches for the toy without touching or
seeing it or without making a grasping motion, then those parts of the scheme of
what becomes parts of this somewhat differentiated self touching, seeing, or
grasping motion are no longer part of the scheme of the toy.
Each behavior also includes some differentiation within the self scheme.
Actions are ordered. Uncovering is done before grasping. Striking or pushing aside is
also done before grasping.
There is little argument that an infant will search under a screen for a toy at
about 9 months and not much earlier Meltzoff, 1996 . However, some investigators
Baillargeon, 1987; Baillargeon, Spelke, & Wasserman, 1985 have contended that the
infant understands the distinctions between objects and the solidity of objects long
before he searches under a screen for an object. They used differential looking at
an object as a measure of understanding distinctions between objects, rather than
search for an object as a measure of such understanding.
I return to Baillargeon and Spelke s contention in chapter 4, where I point to
an observation by Piaget that indicates that, as late as Stage 5, children do not
understand the solidity of objects. Here suffice it to say, that the difficulty involved
in control of reaching is not likely to account for the discrepancy between
Baillargeon and Spelke s position and Piaget s. As I pointed out in chapter 1, infants
will reach for a ball 3 to 4 months earlier than Stage 4 that is, in Stage 3. Also,
Stage 3 infants will reach for a toy if a piece of the toy is visible, as I have just
explained. It is clear that Stage 3 infants can direct their reaching albeit clumsily.
Like Piaget, I contend that Stage 3 infants do not search under a screen for a toy
because they do not understand that the toy is under the screen, once the toy is fully
Using a split screen testing method that depended on looking behavior,
Meltzoff and Moore 1999 provided more evidence that self object differentiation
begins in Stage 4, as Piaget had proposed. In Meltzoff and Moore s test, a toy passes
behind screen 1, is not seen in the gap between screen 1 and screen 2, but then
emerges from behind screen 2. If the trajectory of the toy and the features of the
toy for example, its shape remain unchanged, 9 month olds look at the edges of
the first screen as if peering around it to find the hidden toy p. 68 . Five month
olds, presumably in Stage 3, did not do this. The authors concluded that two widely
divergent response systems, visual and manual, yield the same story p. 68 .
Using looking behavior as a measure, Meltzoff and Moore confirmed Piaget s
findings that the child first clearly differentiates schemes of different objects the
screen and the toy at about 9 months of age. However, they cited the 9 month
olds behavior as evidence of object permanence. The behavior does indicate a
certain sense of object permanence; the child has some notion that the object exists
without having to see a part of the object and without acting on it with her hand.
However, in keeping with Piaget s view, I contend that the child s sense of object
permanence is still not well differentiated at 9 months.
The Differentiation Is Incomplete
In Stage 4, the child has begun to distinguish between simultaneously active
schemes of different objects. But the boundaries between these schemes remain
permeable. Piaget found that a child who had previously found a toy in a particular
location, and who now watched the toy being hidden in a new location, might first
search for the toy in the old location. This behavior is known as the A not B error.
Evidently, the Stage 4 child s scheme of an object is not distinct from his or her
scheme of past successful action on that object. 25
Thelen et al. 2001 argued that the A not B error is not about an object
concept per se … that knowing is perception, acting and remembering, as they
evolve over time p. 4 . Thelen and her colleagues adopted a field theory model that
takes into account many variables in motor planning. They referred to Stage 4
schemes as coupled looking, planning, reaching, and remembering in goal directed
actions that is, as motor action patterns. Smith one of Thelen s associates
elicited the A not B error in 7 to 12 month olds who lifted the lids on empty wells
when the lids that covered the wells were the same color as the entire structure
that is, brown. The children lifted the lid whether it was made salient by hiding an
object in the well or by calling attention to the lid. In emphasizing that Stage 4
schemes are motor action patterns, Thelen was arguing that these schemes are not
representations at all that they are just motor action patterns. But the fact that
children lift the lids on empty wells does not prove that children have no beginning
object representations for different objects. A lid is an object in its own right.
Although the undifferentiated object schemes of Stages 1 to 3 are quite
different from the more differentiated object schemes of the later stages, I wish to
remind the reader that, to the infant, they are the object. In Stage 4, however, the
object scheme that is the toy and the object scheme that is the screen are beginning
to be distinct from each other. Further, although the schemes differentiation is
limited, and Thelen s view that Stage 4 schemes are merely action patterns
Initially, investigators had difficulty repeating Piaget’s observation. Uzgiris and Hunt (1975) proposed a
reliable method of testing for the A-not-B error. The investigator repeatedly hides a toy under a screen at
point A until the child successfully searches twice under the screen at point A. Then, while the child
watches, the experimenter hides the toy under a screen at point B. If the child searches first under the
screen at A, the child has made the A-not-B error.
Using various versions of this method, the A-not-B error has been researched extensively in 7- to 12-
month-olds. The findings are complex and their interpretation remains controversial. In my mind, it is
possible that this method is not comparable to Piaget’s observation of the child’s spontaneous behavior,
because the method invites perseveration—repetition of behavior that no longer makes sense. For an
extensive review and commentaries, see Thelen et al. (2001).
notwithstanding, I will propose that Stage 4 schemes are conscious object
representations. I discuss this issue at length in chapter 4.
The fact that the lid of a well is as much an object in its own right as a toy
placed in a well is consistent with another of Piaget s findings in Stage 4. When
Piaget placed a matchbook on a platform, provided the platform was not too large,
his child did not reach for the matchbook unless the platform was tilted and the
matchbook slid. When Piaget placed a goblet on a platform, his child retrieved the
goblet. Apparently the sets of edges of the matchbook and those of the goblet being
distinct from the edges of the platform helped the child to differentiate the scheme
of the matchbook and the scheme of the goblet from the scheme of the platform.
But in the case of the matchbook, the movement of its edges relative to the edges of
the platform was what made it possible for the child to distinguish between the
schemes of these two objects.
Thus Thelen s 2001 report that the child discriminates different lids of
empty wells is not surprising, particularly if the lids move. Schemes of different lids
are likely to be differentiated from each other, just as the scheme of the matchbook
is differentiated from the scheme of the platform.
These observations involving objects and platforms serve to introduce my
proposal that a particular type of neuroanatomic maturation would assist the
cognitive shift from Stage 3 to Stage 4. I will discuss the mechanics of this shift in
the next chapter.
A BRAIN CHANGE THAT CONTRIBUTES TO REORGANIZATION IN COGNITION
In chapter 2, I described Piaget s first four sensorimotor stages, and proposed
that Stage 4 was fundamentally different from the earlier stages. The operational
mode of the schemes or neural circuits during the first three stages is
undiscriminating in their assimilation of aliment or sensorimotor activation that is,
the schemes are almost completely undifferentiated. Although Stage4 schemes are
far from being differentiated from each other, they begin to be so.
In this chapter I explain how a type of maturation would assist, if it does not
actually induce, the shift from Stage 3 cognition to Stage 4 cognition. I think that
the shift from Stage 3 cognition to Stage 4 cognition constitutes a major
reorganization of cognition.
Piaget proposed that the change from Stage 3 cognition to Stage 4 cognition
was incremental that it did not constitute a major reorganization. The Stage 3
child s imitation of the movement of a swinging object, or her imitation of herself
striking at the object by making an abbreviated striking movement, was as if she
were saying, I could if I wanted to. From that point, it is only a half step to acting
intentionally on objects, as the child does in Stage 4. Piaget saw making spectacles
last striking while watching or listening and the variations of these schemes as
transitional to Stage 4.
It is possible, as was proposed by Piaget, that the shift from Stage 3 to Stage 4
is merely an incremental change. Perhaps the emotions that signal success or failure
guide the change from Stage 3 to Stage 4. The child might discover that she is
successful at causing an object to move when she strikes a proximal object with her
foot, and is unsuccessful when the object is out of reach. The child might discover
that she succeeds in causing an object to move by striking her crib with her arm only
when that object is attached to the crib, or that she succeeds in causing an object to
move only when her arm is connected to the object by a string that is taut. Also,
recall Piaget s description of the steps involved in removing an intervening object to
grasp a toy. First, the child reached for the toy something the child has done since
she was 4 months old . In the course of reaching, the child inadvertently depressed
an intervening pillow. Next, the child learned to depress the pillow to get the toy,
and then to knock the pillow aside to grasp the toy. Incremental transitions such as
the ones just described could totally account for the change from Stage 3 to Stage
But I think there is another, very different way to account for this change. I
think that maturation of part of the visual system, which takes place toward the end
of Stage 3, would certainly support the kinds of differentiation that characterize
Stage 4 cognition. Complete myelination of the peripheral visual tracts would
support the beginning discrimination of visual schemes of one object from those of
another a differentiation that is first manifest in Stage 4 Malerstein, 1986 .
Complete myelination of the peripheral visual tracts the neural tracts that
transmit electrical impulses from the retina to the cerebral cortex takes place just
before Stage 4. As long as myelination of the visual tracts that connect the retina to
the cerebral cortex is incomplete, any organization of visual information coming to
the cerebral cortex would be unstable. Not only is the organization of information
coming from the eye stabilized by complete myelination of the visual tracts, but
more significantly, the kind of organization of visual information that is stabilized is
particularly suited to differentiate schemes that correspond to a world of separate
objects objects that have edges.
To understand my proposal, it is necessary to understand something about
neural tracts and about the myelination of neural tracts. A neural tract is similar to
an electric cable. An electric cable is a bundle of many thin wires. Each of the wires
that make up the cable may be surrounded by insulation material for example,
plastic. A neural tract is made up of a bundle of axons, sometimes referred to as
fibers. In a mature organism, a fatty substance called myelin surrounds the axons, or
fibers, of some neural tracts, giving such tracts the appearance of insulated wire
cables. Although myelination of the individual axons provides some insulation of one
axon from another, the primary function of myelination of an axon is to increase the
speed of transmission of electrical impulses along that axon. See Figure 1. The axons
of neuron A and B are myelinated, and the axon of neuron C is not.
Three findings support the proposal that complete myelination of the visual
tracts influences the shift from Stage 3 to Stage 4. First, complete myelination of the
visual tracts occurs at the right time. Yakovlev and Lecours 1967 found that the
visual tracts that transmit electrical impulses from the retina to neurons of the
primary visual areas V1 of the cerebral cortex are not completely myelinated until
the end of month 4 or 5.26,27 This takes place just before the shift from Stage 3
cognition to Stage 4 cognition. The neurons of V1 are the points of entry into the
cerebral cortex for visual information. Second, although myelination merely speeds
transmission of electrical impulses along the axon of one nerve cell to the next cell,
rapid transmission of electrical impulses is critical if a neural tract a bundle of these
axons is to have stable downstream effects. Toward the end of Stage 3, once the
visual tracts are fully myelinated, the schemes or neuronal circuits downstream from
the V1 neurons have stable activations to work with as they interact with the world.
Third, V1 neurons respond to particular visual patterns that are cast on the retina.
Such selective responses to visual patterns organize neuronal circuits that are
downstream from V1 in a manner that would promote differentiated circuits for
different objects. As we saw in chapter 2, schemes or neuronal circuits of different
objects begin to be differentiated in Stage 4.
I will describe how V1 neurons respond selectively to patterns of light, and
how that selectivity promotes differentiated circuits for different objects. But first, I
must explain how the complete myelination of a neural tract stabilizes activation of
downstream neuronal circuits.
Complete Myelination of the Sensory Tracts Stabilizes Activation
As I noted above, myelin the fatty sheath that surrounds the axons of
certain neurons speeds the transmission of electrical impulses along the axon of a
neuron to downstream neurons. Speed of transmission of these impulses is critical
for a neuron and the neuron, which is downstream from it, to retain their
Yakovlev and Lecours (1967) acknowledged that their study was crude. They worked with postmortem
specimens. Their standard of complete myelination was the depth of color of haematoxylin-stained sections
of brain tissue in a healthy 28-year-old male. In order to assess stage of myelination at different ages, they
compared the depth of color of a neural tract of their standard to the same neural tract in the brains of
fetuses, children, and young adults. Now it is possible to visualize brain function and anatomy in live
humans, using different types of brain-scanning devices. Each device has its strengths and its limitations.
Thus far, for tracing the development of myelination, the work of Yakovlev and Lecours, especially for
small or scattered tracts, constitutes the best data we have.
V1 is located on the inner surface of the occipital lobe of each cerebral hemisphere. See
Figures 2 and 4.
relationship. This is because the first impulses to reach downstream neurons will
activate them and inhibit activation by impulses from other neurons that arrive a bit
later. As I explained in chapter 1, the more often the relationship between two
neurons is repeated, the stronger the relationship becomes. Also, there is evidence
that neurons that are not activated lose their downstream connections Lichtman &
Coleman, 2000 .
Until a tract a bundle of neuronal axons is completely myelinated, any
transmission of impulses conducted by the axons of that tract to downstream
neurons will be unstable over time. In order to understand this, consider two
neurons that I will call P and Q, whose axons are part of a tract. At the downstream
end of the tract are two other neurons that I will call P1 and Q1, which are neighbors.
Assume that neuron P s axon has the shortest route to neuron P1, and that neuron
Q s axon has the shortest route to neuron Q1. The first impulses to reach a
downstream neuron activate that neuron. Hence, all things being equal, impulses
from neuron P will activate neuron P1, and impulses from neuron Q will activate
neuron Q1. However, because myelinated axons transmit impulses more rapidly than
unmyelinated axons, if P s axon is not myelinated and Q s is, impulses from neuron Q
may activate not only neuron Q1, but also neuron P1. Once neuron P s axon is fully
myelinated, however, impulses conducted by axon P will reach neuron P1 earlier than
impulses conducted by axon Q, because axon P s route to P1 is shorter. Thereafter,
neuron P will activate neuron P1, and neuron Q will activate neuron Q1. The
relationship of P to P1 and Q to Q1 and activation of neuronal circuits that are
downstream from P1 and Q1 will then be stable. However, prior to the myelination of
P s axon, as a consequence of this fluctuating activation of P1 and Q1, activation of
neuronal circuits that are downstream from P1 and Q1 will have been unstable.
Thus, if speed of transmission of impulses conducted by a neural tract to
downstream neuronal circuits becomes stable only when myelination of a neural tract
is complete, only then, does activation of the downstream neuronal circuits also
become stable. 28, 29 Furthermore, the cells that make up the myelin sheath secrete
proteins that inhibit axonal growth cones Woolf & Blocklinger, 2002 . These
proteins are thought to inhibit the repair of damaged nerves. Such proteins would
contribute stability to existing myelinated tracts, and thus to any downstream
The Primary Visual Area V1 Cells of the Cerebral Cortex Selective
Gates Into the Brain
Fast hence stable neural transmission of impulses from the cells of the
retina to the visual cortex30 provides a new tool to be exploited in the differentiation
of schemes of different objects, differentiation that is manifest in Stage 4. To
understand how this works, it is necessary to understand how the V1 cells operate.
This understanding is based on studies in monkeys done by Hubel & Weisel 1979 .
Some V1 cells are most active when lines or boundaries of light of a specific
See chapter 1, footnote 9. Merzenich (1998) provides evidence of the potential plasticity of neuronal
relationships in the cerebral cortex, even in mature brains.
In the discussion that follows, I will continue to discuss complete myelination of a tract as if stabilization
of downstream circuits required absolutely complete myelination. I assume, however, that when most of a
tract is fully myelinated, transmission by the tract to downstream circuitry is reasonably stable.
Figure 5 is a schematic drawing of the visual system. The axons of ganglion cells constitute the optic
nerve, which connects the retina to the lateral geniculate ganglion of the thalamus—a relay station of the
visual system. The geniculocalcarine tract connects the lateral geniculate ganglion to V1 cells located in the
calcarine fissure of the occipital lobe of the cerebral cortex.
orientation fall on the retina.31 For example, certain V1 cells are most active when a
vertical line or vertical boundary of light falls on the retina, and basically inactive
when that line of light is off the vertical by as little as 10 to 20 degrees On a clock,
15 degrees is the difference between 12 and 12:30 . These V1 cells are seldom
spontaneously active. When stimulated, they go from 0 to 40 firings per second De
Valois & De Valois, 1988 . Other V1 cells are most active when the line of light that
falls on the retina is at an angle that is 10 to 20 degrees off the vertical. Other V1
cells are most active when the angle is still greater, and so on. Still other V1 cells are
most active when the light that falls on the retina is moving in a particular direction.
It follows that until the neurological connections between the retina and the cerebral
cortex are stable that is, until the visual tracts are completely myelinated the
responsiveness of these V1 cells to orientation of lines of light, and to the movement
of light, would be unstable. Accordingly, until these visual tracts are completely
myelinated, activation of neuronal circuits that are downstream from the V1 cells
would be unstable.
Movement of edges of light as a set is the single most reliable visual measure for
distinguishing one object from another. A set of edges of light lines or boundaries of
light that belong to one object, which differ from a set of edges of light that belong
to another object, generally discriminates the two objects. This is especially true, if
one of the sets moves relative to the other set.
Colors, patterns, and textures also help to distinguish one object from
another. But they are less reliable in this respect than are sets of edges that move
relative to each other. Different objects may share the same colors; a green plate may
rest on a green table. Discrete objects may share patterns or textures, making it
difficult to distinguish one object from the other. A single object may be
multicolored or have more than one pattern or texture. In such instances,
differences in color, pattern, or texture could mislead one into thinking that an
object was two or more discrete objects.
Toward the end of Stage 3, the neural tracts from the retina to V1 are
completely myelinated. V1 cells may then act as reliable gates to downstream
neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex. Consider a V1 cell that is most active when
an edge of light cast on the retina is vertical. When this cell is activated, it will
transmit electrical impulses to a particular downstream group of cells that is, to a
particular neuronal circuit or scheme. Another cell, which is most active when the
edge of light cast on the retina is 20 degrees off vertical, will transmit electrical
impulses to different downstream neurons. Similarly, impulses from a V1 cell that is
most active when the light cast on the retina is moving in a particular direction,
activates its own set of neurons.
Once input to the primary visual area cells is stable, they act as gates to
downstream neuronal circuitry or scheme activation. They reliably segregate
downstream schemes, based on the orientation of an edge of light and on the
movement of light that is cast on the retina. Downstream schemes, distinguished from
each other in terms of edges and movement of light, are then available for developing
constructs scheme relationships that work better in a world composed of separate objects that
are impervious to light.
De Valois and De Valois (1988) found that X and Y ganglion cells also respond differentially to edges
and movement of light. The axons of the ganglion cells are fully myelinated earlier than those that make
up the geniculocalcarine tract, which is the last leg of the visual tracts to be fully myelinated. The
connection of X and Y cells to the downstream cells of the geniculocalcarine tract, however, is not
coordinated. Thus, the X and Y cells could not be expected to play a role in differentiating object schemes
in Stage 4 in humans. It is possible, however, that these cells might play such a role in animals that are less
cortically dependent, or even in newborn human infants. This might help to explain any findings of very
early, but temporary, object differentiations in newborns.
Taking into account these facts, let us look again at an experiment that Piaget
conducted on his Stage 4 child the experiment that involved an object that was
placed on a platform. When Piaget placed a matchbook on the platform, his child
did not reach for the matchbook unless Piaget tilted the platform and the
matchbook slid. When Piaget placed a goblet on the platform, his child reached for
Two points are to be made. First, the Stage 4 child s failure to reach for the
matchbook on a platform indicates incomplete division between the schemes of two
different objects. The scheme of the matchbook and the scheme of the platform are
not distinct from each other if the matchbook does not move relative to the
platform. Second, the child apparently uses edges and their movement to
differentiate the scheme of one object from the scheme of another. The edges of the
sliding matchbook and the edges of the goblet are distinct from the edges of the
platform. When the edges of objects are distinct from the edges of a platform, the
Stage 4 child reaches for the objects. His schemes of the objects are distinct from
his scheme of the platform.
It is opportune that, just before Stage 4, the gate cells of V1 are brought on
line by full myelination of the visual tracts to the cerebral cortex. These gate cells,
which are differentially sensitive to orientation of edges and movement of light,
would automatically segregate downstream schemes or neuronal circuits based on
the orientation of edges and on whether they move in a particular direction. In late
Stage 3, based on edges and movement of light cast on the retina, visual schemes are
newly organized into reliably segregated schemes. The schemes or neuronal circuits
downstream from V1 that correspond to two different objects would be segregated
from each other depending on whether the sets of edges of the two objects were
oriented differently and/or on whether the edges moved relative to each other. Late
in Stage 3, these schemes that are now segregated in terms of edges and movement
work more successfully in their interaction with a world of different objects. The
infant is better able to grasp the things he wants.
What I have said here about the visual system applies to the touch system as
well. The touch system operates analogously to the visual system in terms of edges
and movement Gardener & Kandel, 2000 . The neural tracts of the touch system
from the skin to the primary somatosensory area of the cerebral cortex S1 32 is
completely myelinated later than the neural tracts of the visual system, at about 12
months Yakovlev & Lecours, 1967 . However, the neural tracts that serve the upper
limbs and the head the relevant parts for early scheme organization are probably
completely myelinated earlier.33 Maturation of the touch system could supplement
object differentiation for sighted infants. In blind infants, it could be a primary aid
in the differentiation of object schemes.34
S1 is a strip of cortex on the outside surface of both cerebral hemispheres just behind the central sulcus (a
crevice in the surface of the brain). See Figures 2, 3 and 4. Cells of area 1 of S1 receive stimuli from nerve
endings that are activated by touch. Electrical stimulation of area 1 produces a sensation of tingling at a
particular point on the opposite side of the body. For the most part, not only is body representation in the
brain transposed right to left—so that the right side of the brain connects to the left side of the body—but
representation is also inverted. For example, sensation will be felt at a point of the upper part of the body—
the tongue and thumb—if the bottom of area 1 is stimulated. See Figures 3 and 4.
It should be noted that area 1 cells respond differentially to edge orientation and direction of movement of
Maturation generally begins at the head end of an organism and proceeds toward its tail.
Proprioception—the sensory system that responds to position and movement of muscles, tendons, and
joints—plays a role in differentiation of objects. For example, cells of area 2—a part of S1 that receives
both touch and proprioceptive stimuli—respond selectively to round and rectangular objects (Gardner &
Kandel (2000). What might be analogous to edge-orientation and motion selectivity of visual and touch
During Stage 4, children are students of objects presumably of their edges
and of their displacement. As they watch a new object, they will pick it up, rotate it,
bring it closer to their eyes, and then extend their arms. They may do this over and
over with the same object. Sometimes they pick up a familiar object and examine it
in the same detail, as if it were new to them.
Children in the next stage Stage 5 12 16 months are advanced students of
edges. They pull on a string, a refinement or extension of edges, to obtain an object.
They pick up a matchbook that rests on a platform even when the matchbook is not
moving, and they may pull on the platform to bring the matchbook within reach.
The Stage 5 child apparently distinguishes the edges of the matchbook scheme from
those of the platform scheme even when the matchbook and the platform are not
moving relative to each other. The child has learned more about certain edges.
The Stage 5 child s schemes that are segregated by edges works increasingly
better in a world composed of separate objects that are impenetrable to light or to
touch. Nonetheless, the Stage 5 child may at first attempt to put a ring on a stick by
touching the ring to the side of the stick. Apparently, the child s construct the
edge quality of his schemes that segregates schemes of different objects remains
permeable. Our adult construct is that edges are often good indicators of separate,
The Stage 5 child exploits the edge segregation of his schemes as they interact
with the world. He discovers that he cannot pass a ring through a stick. As noted, he
pulls on a platform to retrieve an object that rests on the platform, and pulls on a
string an extension of the edges of an object in order to get the object. The child
discovers how his schemes of different objects, segregated by different sets of edges
and movement of light and touch stimuli, work or do not work that is, bring
satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
I argue that, ushering in Stage 4, complete myelination of the visual and
somatosensory tracts to their respective primary sensory areas of the cortex is an
important mechanism for distinguishing the schemes of different objects. Complete
myelination of these tracts provides rapid, hence stable, transmission from
peripheral visual and touch cells to the primary visual and somatosensory areas,
respectively, of the cortex. When activated, the schemes, separated by visual and by
somatosensory edge orientation and movement, are strengthened as they interact
successfully with a world of solid objects. These schemes find what works, what is
successful, what brings satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Complete myelination of the visual and somatosensory tracts to the cerebral
cortex need not be the only mechanism used to shift from Stage 3 to Stage 4
cognition.35 Other maturational factors that are yet to be discovered could be in
system cells of the cerebral cortex is not known for the proprioception system. Spencer’s finding of a
constant relationship of shoulder torque to elbow torque at about 4 months when the infant reaches for an
object is a lead regarding the timing of maturation and the function of the proprioception system that serves
the arm. See Chapter 1.
Like I, Diamond (2001) proposed a role for myelination in cognitive development. Drawing on studies
of children and monkeys, she proposed that increased myelination of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
enables children and monkeys to overcome the A-not-B error. Adults with prefrontal cortical damage tend
to be uninhibited—have difficulty adhering to a plan of action—and tend to perseverate—repeat a behavior
that no longer makes sense. Apparently, her theory is that a more mature prefrontal cortex should help the
child to inhibit searching for an object where he last found it—the A-not-B error—rather than searching for
it where he last saw it. If Diamond is correct, then prefrontal myelination would assist the transition from
Stage 4 to Stage 5. It should be noted, however, that while there are spurts of myelination of the prefrontal
cortex in early childhood, myelination of the prefrontal cortex is not complete until adolescence or early
adulthood (Yakovlev & Lecours, 1967).
play. Typically, biological systems have built in redundancy. That is, they often have
several ways of achieving the same end.
Additionally, as valuable as the orientation of edges and their movement as a
set are in learning to differentiate discrete objects, they are insufficient in themselves
to differentiate certain objects. Some objects cannot be moved for example, a
mountain. The edges of some objects are not visible for example, the earth; or are
not touchable for example, the moon. Yet adults talk about such objects as if they
were distinct. Children, however, may continue to use edge orientation and
movement to define objects as late as Piaget s Preoperational Period 2 7 years . I
will give examples of this in chapter 6.
Some theoreticians infer that synaptic pruning results in major cognitive
reorganization. Synaptic change whether strengthening or pruning probably is
responsible for incremental change that is, assimilation and accommodation. I
doubt that synaptic change is ordinarily responsible for major reorganizations, such
as the transition from Stage 3 to Stage 4 appears to be.
More about Stage 4
There are advantages to the infant s waiting until Stage 4 before he
differentiates schemes of different objects. If we think back to the cumulative mode
of the first three stages, we see how rich and interconnected the schemes have
become during the first 7 or 8 months. A particular toy scheme is perhaps
pleasurable, graspable, bangable, suckable, watchable, and so on. In Stage 4, when
the schemes begin to separate into different object schemes, the aliment that has
been assimilated to form a toy s scheme is rich and interconnected and, though
interconnected, perhaps multiple . Being interconnected, the toy s scheme is
accessible for activation that is, it may be remembered or reconstructed through
many and varied routes and perhaps in essentially distinct locations . The toy s
scheme may be activated through pleasurable, graspable, suckable, and so on. Once
differentiation begins, it is a rich, highly accessible scheme. Since differentiation is
by its nature constraining for example, the toy is or is not reachable both the
richness of the schemes and their accessibility would be reduced had the
differentiation been made earlier.
In chapter 2, I proposed that scheme organization shifts significantly between
Stage 3 and Stage 4. In this chapter, I theorize that maturation of two sensory tracts
to the cerebral cortex their complete myelination late in Stage 3 for the sighted ,
just before Stage 4, fosters differentiation of schemes in terms of object edges and
their movement. It is reasonable to assume that this maturational factor assists the
shift in scheme organization that characterizes Stage 4. Other findings suggest that
this maturational factor continues to play a role in the incremental progress from
Stages 4 to Stage 6 of the Sensorimotor Period. This incremental progress in scheme
organization depends on monitoring by emotions, which signal success or failure.
Before going on to the next chapter, I wish to make one additional point. I
have described how an undifferentiated, global scheme a widespread neuronal
circuit would be affected by a maturational factor the full myelination of neural
tracts to edge movement gate cells, entry points to the cerebral cortex. This factor
assists the differentiation of schemes more modular neuronal circuits for objects,
including the self.
My thesis of how a maturational factor interacts with undifferentiated
schemes obviates what investigators who study neurophysiological function in
mature organisms refer to as the binding problem. The binding problem arises from
the fact that sensory input is broken down into small components that may be
located in distant areas of the brain. For example, a scene is deconstructed into
colors, edges, and movement, and what and where take different pathways in the
cerebral cortex. The problem, as posed by these investigators, is how does the brain
integrate these components and different pathways into a coherent perception of an
object or the sense of a self?
If we accept that the functional unit of early brain is an undifferentiated and
global scheme a whole there is no binding problem. We have no problem of how
the components get together. They are together to begin with.
Components are what in the course of development are sculpted from an
early whole that is, a scheme. Complete myelination of a neural tract as I
described above , a surge in the number of synapses, a surge in hormones, or
environmental influences, including a change in culture such as the development of
a written language, or of a system of mathematics may carve out components.
In the next chapter, I will reexamine the sensorimotor schemes to suggest
how the brain can give rise to conscious schemes. I begin by describing the reticular
activating system of the midbrain and its role in control of the sleep wake cycle. I
will argue that, beginning in Stage 3, all stage typical schemes are conscious
schemes that a portion of each stage typical scheme is waking state activation.
CONSCIOUSNESS FROM A MECHANICAL DEVICE
In the earlier chapters, I showed how schemes may be translated into activity
of neuronal networks, how these networks prior to Stage 4 are undifferentiated and
global, how during Stage 4 they begin to be differentiated, and how complete
myelination of the visual and touch sensory tracts could assist such beginning
differentiation. I have not addressed what, if any, parts of these schemes are
conscious, or how they could become so.
In this chapter I will propose:
1. Beginning in Stage 3, all stage typical schemes conceptualized by Piaget are
conscious schemes, and
2. What adults experience as being conscious awareness or what is referred
to by some philosophers as the qualia of consciousness is the enhancement of
activity of the cerebral cortical circuitry by the reticular activating system RAS .
To make my proposal, I take a constructivist developmental approach.
Sleeping, Waking, and the Reticular Activating System
To understand my proposal, it is helpful to understand something about the
sleep wake cycle. The suprachiasmatic nucleus a cluster of neurons at the base of
the brain, which receives nerve fibers directly from the retina acts as a time clock
that governs the cyclic activity of the RAS. In turn, the activity of the RAS governs
the sleep wake cycle.
The RAS is an extensive and diffuse network of neurons in the brain stem.
See Figure 4.36 Some fibers from all types of sensory nerves conduct impulses to the
RAS. The RAS s main route to the cerebral cortex is through the intralaminary
nuclei of the thalamus. The intralaminary nuclei are complex relay stations that
connect to widespread areas of the cerebral cortex.
Before the work of Moruzzi and Magoon 1949 , little was understood about
the loosely defined networks that make up the RAS. They discovered that severing
the RAS in the brain stem of cats resulted in behavioral stupor and an
electroencephalogram EEG resembling sleep.37 Initially, Moruzzi and Magoon
believed that the awake state was caused by sensory input that activated the RAS.
Then, the activated RAS activated the cerebral cortical circuitry. They thought that
sleep resulted from absence of activation of the RAS. Later Batini, et al. 1958 found
that severing the RAS at a somewhat higher level of the brain stem resulted in the
The brain stem is the part of the brain upon which the cerebrum and cerebellum rest. The brain stem—
composed of the medulla, pons, and midbrain—rests upon the spinal cord. The neural tracts of brain stem
interconnect the spinal cord, the cerebellum, and the cerebrum. The cerebrum is composed of the two
cerebral hemispheres and the diencephalon, which sits between and below the two cerebral hemispheres—
the outer surface of which is the cerebral cortex. The diencephalon is composed primarily of the thalamus,
but also includes the epithalamus, the subthalamus, and the hypothalamus. I will focus on only a few of the
many functions that take place in these structures.
The EEG records electrical wave activity from the brain. The recording is done from electrodes placed
on the scalp, or, rarely, directly on the surface of the brain. The electrical waves are a summation of
electrical activity in a large number of dendrites. See Figure 1. The EEG is precise in its timing of
electrical activity, but poor in its location of that activity. The wave patterns that typify sleeping and
waking EEGs are discussed in chapter 8.
inability to sleep. It was then clear that sleep was actively controlled by its own
region of the RAS. Activity of one part of the RAS tended to induce the awake
state, and activity of a second part of the reticular system RSS tended to induce
Although this position continues to hold, the control systems are more
complex than was originally supposed. For example, some cells that make up a
particular region of the reticular system are inhibitory and others are excitatory. So
it is the predominance of one type of cell over the other that determines what will
happen if that region is severed.
Steriade 2000 found that the predominant effects of RAS activation are
twofold. First, RAS activation blocks sleep spindles, which originate in a nucleus of
the thalamus called the reticular nucleus.38 Sleep spindles are repeat EEG wave forms
that are most prominent during the second stage of sleep. Second, RAS activation
excites neurons of the thalamocortical tracts that, as mentioned, have widespread
connections to the neurons of the cerebral cortex. The effect of RAS activation is
that cortical neurons are made more excitable more response ready.39
A Constructivist View of Consciousness
Along with Piaget, I have proposed that, in the newborn and for some time
later, the schemes are not distinct from each other. Here, I will propose that, unless
there is a distinction between waking state schemes and sleeping state schemes,
conscious cognitive emotional schemes are not distinct from non conscious
cognitive emotional schemes. It then follows that, when cognitive emotional
schemes and non conscious cognitive emotional schemes are not distinct from each
other, conscious cognition or conscious emotion has no meaning. This holds unless
one assumes that cognition and emotion are always conscious that non conscious
cognition and emotion never takes place.40
Before 6 weeks, based on the behavior of the infant, there is little indication
that waking state schemes are differentiated from sleeping state schemes. After 6
weeks, however, several types of behavior suggest that waking state schemes are
differentiated from sleeping state schemes.
I propose that, at 6 weeks, the waking state portion of a scheme is the
nucleus of what becomes the what it is like to be conscious, sometimes referred to as the
qualia of consciousness a portion of scheme activity that includes the waking state
is what is experienced as conscious cognition and feelings . Further, I propose that
beginning in Stage 3 5 8 months , all stage typical schemes that were described by
Piaget are conscious schemes. In Stage 3 and thereafter, the generalized facilitation
of activation of cerebral cortical cells by the RAS the waking state is part of every
The function of this nucleus—not to be confused with the RAS—was a mystery until the clinical
observations of Watson, Valenstein, and Heilman (1981), followed by the neurophysiologic work of
Steriade (2000), noted above.
Steriade (2000) also believes that RAS activation may have short inhibitory effects on some thalamic
cells; these effects may improve receptive-field specificity and orientation, which would aid concentration
Steriade found that high-voltage, slow waves—delta waves—are generated by large numbers of cortical
cells firing in synchrony. Presumably, the activation of the thalamocortical neurons disrupts this
synchronous firing of cortical cells.
I will use the terms non-conscious and unconscious to refer to cognitive and emotional processing that
takes place without awareness—not to refer to the unconscious state that is due to head injury or deep
anesthesia, in which perhaps no cognitive or emotional processing takes place.
stage typical scheme. Put another way, beginning in Stage 3 and continuing
thereafter, a portion of all stage typical schemes is conscious.
When a Stage 3 infant strikes a suspended object with his foot and varies his
striking as he watches, and appears to have such a good time doing so, I find it hard
to believe that he is not conscious. I assume that some of the parts of this typical
Stage 3 scheme must be conscious. It is not obvious what particular part of a scheme
the child is conscious of at any moment. Is he conscious of the movement of his
foot, of the control involved in the movement of his foot, of the contact of his foot
with an object, of the sight of its moving, of his emotion, or of all of these parts of
scheme activity? Given the undifferentiation of Stage 3, it is likely that he is
conscious of all of these parts or a random selection of them. It is difficult to believe
that no part of the activity of this typical Stage 3 scheme is conscious that he is not
aware of some part of his scheme no matter how undifferentiated his scheme is.
A Dilemma: The Brain is a Mechanical Device.
In chapter 1, I proposed that a scheme is activity of neuronal circuits in the
cerebral cortex the electrochemical transmission of impulses in an organization of
neuronal circuits. There is no more reason to assume that such circuit activity is
inherently conscious than there is reason to believe that the activity of an electrical
circuit in a computer is conscious.
Sometimes a computer seems conscious. When I load paper into my printer,
and my computer says, Thank you, I sometimes respond, You re welcome. But
activity of neuronal or computer circuitry is no more conscious than a ball rolling
down a hill, or the action of the engine s causing the wheels of an automobile to
rotate. The activities of these objects may be explained by mechanics alone. The ball
is not aware that it is rolling. The engine is not aware that it is causing the wheels to
rotate. I assume that the persons who built the computer and programmed it, those
who dropped the ball, and those who built or drove the automobile were conscious.
They were aware of what they were doing. I also assume that their conscious
cognition and emotions played a role in the control of behavior of the computer, of
the ball, and of the automobile.
If persons derive their consciousness from the unconscious mechanics of
neuronal circuits, which in themselves are not conscious, how is it possible to explain
my assumption that persons, who build mechanical things, such as computers or
automobiles, or who drop a ball on a hill, are conscious? Recently, distinguished
theoreticians have addressed this question. Sperry 1981 proposed that consciousness
emerges from neuronal circuitry, once the neuronal circuitry is large and complex
enough. It would be like the steering wheel of a car emerging from a complex
organization of molecules. Although a mechanical device may make a steering wheel,
I think that a thinking person must design the device. Edelman 1989 proposed that
neuronal circuitry activation s folding on itself the reentry of activation gives rise
to consciousness. Crick and Koch 1990 inferred that attention a form of
consciousness results from synchronized activity of neurons that are in different
areas of the visual system. They infer that when a number of neurons in these
different areas of the cerebral cortex fire electrical impulses at the same frequency
about 40 to 70 times a second a coherent picture emerges. Searle 1992 argued that
consciousness is an irreducible feature of physical reality. He implied that
consciousness is a property of nerve tissue, much as contractility is a property of
muscle cells; that is, along with transmission of electrical impulses, nervous tissue has
consciousness as an inherent property.
As I have already noted, I attempt to answer the question by taking a
constructivist view of cognitive development. Importantly, my attempt recognizes
that representation need not resemble that which is represented that
representation depends on the medium employed for representation. For example, in
a computer, the letter E and what to do with E are represented by patterns of open
and closed electrical switches. In the brain, the letter E and what to do with E are
represented by neuronal circuit activity patterns.41
Before I explain how I think consciousness is constructed, I will argue that,
although the mechanics of brain function are remarkably complex, they are not
inherently mysterious. Then I will note two aspects of the relationship between
brain and consciousness that are inherently mysterious.
Brain mechanics are not inherently mysterious.
To understand the mechanics of how the brain works involves reverse
engineering of a very complex electrochemical system with massive interconnections.
In its simplest form, reverse engineering is like figuring out how the switch on the
dashboard of the car turns the headlights on and off. To do so, one must trace the
circuit, from the source of electricity the negative pole of the battery to the
switch on the dashboard, to the thin wire inside the headlight, to the frame of the
car, and finally through the frame to the positive pole of the battery. When one
closes the switch, the circuit is complete. Electrons flow through the circuit,
including the thin wire in the headlight. The thin wire heats up and glows; the
headlights are on. Trying to reverse engineer my computer to figure out how my
computer works is more formidable. It is very difficult to trace the organizations
of open and closed electrical switches in different locations of my computer that
enable my typing on the keyboard to move paragraphs to different parts of a text,
change fonts, and so on. Such reverse engineering is complex. But it is not inherently
mysterious, though it sometimes looks remarkably mysterious from the outside.
Figuring out the mechanics of how the brain works is even more difficult and
more interesting than figuring out how a computer works. We are far from figuring
out how the brain works, although considerable stepwise progress has been made.
One recent example of a promising, sweeping concept is Coward s proposal 2005 of
a system architecture for the brain in which recordings are not point localizable.
Rather, recordings rely on recommendations of neuronal ensembles. Understanding
the mechanics of brain function how the organizations of excitatory and inhibitory
nerve cells allow one to walk to the fridge or to type this sentence is an extremely
difficult task. The mechanics of the neuronal circuits that control the muscles
involved in carrying out such activities, however, are not mysterious in themselves.
The inherent mysteries of brain function are twofold. Both involve
First, how can matter give rise to the mind? That is, how can a material
structure the brain give rise to conscious cognition and conscious emotion? How
it is possible for matter to be conscious is a mystery, unless one assumes that rocks
and amoebae are conscious, as some people do.
Second, how can the mind conscious cognition and conscious emotion
influence matter? This is the other mystery. The brain is a material organ, which
It should be noted that my position that neuronal circuit activity is merely the mechanics of brain
operation, hence is not conscious, does not distinguish psychodynamic unconscious processing—the bread
and butter of psychoanalysis—from any other non-conscious cognitive-emotional processing. For
example, my proposal does not distinguish between forbidden impulses that are repressed from other non-
conscious cognitive-emotional processing. In chapters 5 and 8, I will explain how psychodynamic
unconscious processing is a part of the picture that I sketch.
mechanically, through complex electrochemical means, controls motor action that
is, behavior. How does something as unsubstantial as thinking and feeling influence
matter; how do conscious cognition and emotion influence the brain?
I will address these mysteries in this chapter and in the next.
Consciousness Constructed From the Waking State
Qualitative Scheme Changes Stages 3 to 6
It is not hard to believe that behaviors of stage typical scheme activation in
Stage 1 or Stage 2 could take place mechanically. These behaviors consist mainly of
the repetition of adventitious movements. For example, repeatedly sticking out the
tongue and sucking it or perhaps even repeatedly striking and grasping the edge of a
blanket could take place during sleep or without the infant being aware of either
type of behavior.
As already mentioned, it is hard to imagine Stage 3 typical behavior taking
place when the child is not conscious or asleep a state of reduced consciousness.
When an infant strikes an object and varies her striking and has such a good time
doing so, it is hard to believe that this is just mechanical behavior that she could do
this while she was asleep or that she could do this without being aware of some parts
of the spectacle. Portions of her scheme must be conscious.
It is more difficult to imagine subsequent stage typical schemes outside of
consciousness. For example, it is difficult to imagine a Stage 4 child searching for a
toy under a screen without a portion of the child s schemes being conscious.
Although toy and screen schemes are significantly undifferentiated from each other
in Stage 4, when a child searches under a screen for a toy, the search itself is
purposeful. When the child brushes aside an intervening object to obtain a toy, the
behavior is purposeful. He has the potential of thinking, I want this and not that ,
whatever the make up of this or that is.
Stage 5 children will search for a toy where it last disappeared under a screen.
It is difficult to imagine a child doing this unconsciously. Stage 5 children s object
schemes are no longer successful action bound. These children do not ordinarily
make the A not B error. They will search wherever they last saw the toy. They will,
however, not search under a screen for a toy that is, under a second screen that was
hidden under the first screen. If a beret was already under a pillow and the Stage 5
child watches the toy being placed under the pillow, the child will search under the
pillow, but not under the beret. Since the children in Stage 5 fail to search under a
second screen for a toy, their conscious scheme of an object that they just saw is not
yet distinct from their conscious scheme of the object disappearing under the screen.
These children do not have object permanence. They do not know that, because
they watched the toy disappear under the pillow, the toy must still exist somewhere
under the pillow. Neither is their mental image of the toy that they have in their
mind separate from their just having seen the toy as it disappeared that is, separate
from their perception of the toy: Their mental image of an object is not distinct
from their perception of that object. Nor does their scheme of the toy appear to be
separate from their scheme of the pillow under which the toy disappears. The
boundaries of the toy scheme and the pillow scheme are permeable.
Another observation gives a sense of the continued permeability of object
schemes in Stage 5. As mentioned earlier, a Stage 5 child will attempt to place a ring
on a stick by touching the ring to the side of the stick. The schemes of two objects
are like two transparencies or two lights that can pass through each other, or like a
pebble that passes through water. Baillargeon 1987 and Baillargeon, Spelke, and
Wasserman 1985 contended that 3 to 5 month old infants perceived objects as
being solid, because they stared longer at a display of a drawbridge that appeared to
pass through an object. Rivera, Wattley, and Langer 1999 repeated the drawbridge
experiment. They found that the farther the drawbridge traveled, the longer the
infants looked at it. This held true, whether the drawbridge traveled through empty
space or through an apparently solid object. Their finding does not support
Baillargeon 1987 and her colleagues contention that 3 to 5 month old infants
comprehend the solid nature of objects. At best, comprehension of the solidity of
objects of their impenetrability is incomplete at least as late as in Stage 5, as is
illustrated by the child s attempt to pass a ring through a stick. Nonetheless, all of
the stage typical schemes of Stage 5 are conscious.
Unlike a Stage 5 child, a Stage 6 child will search for a toy under a screen that
is hidden under another screen for example, under the beret that is under the
pillow. When the child watches a toy placed under a screen and the toy is then
displaced without the child seeing where it went, he will search for the toy under any
number of screens. Apparently, a Stage 6 child has a scheme of the toy that exists
apart from schemes of the screens. To the child, the scheme of the toy still exists
somewhere nearby, no matter where he last saw it.
In Stage 6, children have object permanence. Having once seen an object, they
understand that the object exists, without having to have seen where it was finally
In Stage 6, children have mental image schemes of objects, since they are able
to hold images of toys in their minds while they search for them under a series of
screens. The mental image scheme of the toy is distinct from the perception scheme
of the toy, and is distinct from schemes of other objects for example, the pillow
under which the toy disappeared. The distinction between the mental image scheme
of an object and the perception scheme of an object is a distinction between two
categories of conscious schemes. 42
One of my basic assumptions is that cognitive emotional processing goes
on at all times and at all ages. Would that be true for the fertilized egg? I don t
think so. Is it true for the fetus? Yes. What about the time in between? I don t
know. It is possible that, prior to the division between waking and sleeping state
schemes, there may be schemes that are more conscious than not. Does the fetus
experience such schemes? We know that in the last trimester, the fetus appears to
sleep at times and exhibits rapid eye movements. Using ultrasound, one can see the
fetus suck his or her fingers, and sometimes after birth, the arm shows a bruise from
sucking Rochat, 2001 . If we extrapolate backward from the state of the newborn,
who is awake 20 of the time, we may find evidence of waking cognitive life in the
fetus. Because the newborn is habituated to the heartbeat of the mother, and
because he will turn toward the smell of a pad dampened with his mother s amniotic
fluid, I assume that the fetus responds to sound and to smell. But is the fetus
conscious of sound and smell?
Here it is appropriate to note that clownfish embryos imprint on the
squeaks, grunts and whistles of their parents…The hatchlings use tiny stones in their
heads called otoliths to pick up the racket and find home . The heartbeats of the
embryos responded strongly to noise of sounds made by their parents, and got
better at it as they developed Holden, 2003, p. 341 . Would we attribute
consciousness to the embryo of a clownfish?
In the fetus, there is no evidence of a division between sleeping sucking reflex
activity and waking sucking reflex activity. Visual activation is virtually absent.
Although present, motor action in utero is restricted. This leaves limited cognitive
emotional scheme activity involving activation of the proprioceptive, auditory,
olfactory, and sensorimotor sucking systems.
As measured by search under screens, schemes of the self and schemes of
other objects are distinct from each other in Stage 6.43 Mental images form part of
the construct of the self, just as percepts form part of the construct of objects other
than the self.
Piaget s observation that children at this age distinguish a construct of the self
from constructs of other objects has since been confirmed. Unaware that an
experimenter had placed a mark on his face, a child of this age will wipe off the mark
when he looks at his reflection in a mirror Lewis & Brooks, 1978 . A younger child
will attempt to wipe the mark off his reflection in the mirror. The Stage 6 child also
uses first person pronouns, such as me and mine. At this age, the child has a
reasonably definitive consciousness of self as an object has the sense that that self
believes, wants, and acts, though such attributes are not as yet discrete from one
Construction of the Experience of Consciousness
I will describe how consciousness could be constructed from RAS
activation a facilitation or enhancement of schemes or neuronal circuits during the
waking state. .I will propose that the RAS is the nidus or center, around which the
experience of being conscious the qualia of consciousness is constructed. From
After birth, more varied and intense activations are part of the waking state. All the systems--visual,
auditory, touch, proprioceptive, olfactory, pain, temperature, and postural—are more activated as the infant
experiences light, as she is moved about, and as she moves more freely. Any conscious cognition that the
fetus might have would be undifferentiated and limited, by comparison.
If the quality of consciousness is constructed from the waking state, then any animal that has a sleep-wake
cycle could be expected to have conscious experiences. I assume that no animal at the evolutionary level of
fish or below is conscious, since fish do not sleep but merely rest. They do not have discrete sleep-wake
cycles. Yet a fish on a hook certainly struggles. Fish appear to experience something. Or are their
responses merely automatic responses that serve survival, just as a single-cell organism may move around a
I assume that animals above the level of fish and amphibians experience some forms of consciousness. If
we watch a dog’s reaction to seeing or smelling another dog, it is difficult to imagine that a dog is not
conscious. It is not to be expected that a dog has the same conscious organizations of content that we have.
Exactly how the dog thinks about or perceives another dog or the rest of the world, I don’t know.
Nonetheless, I have little doubt that a dog has a conscious cognitive-emotional life.
Piaget used two other criteria to measure self-object distinction in Stage 6. These were immediate
imitation and delayed imitation of acts that the child had never performed before. These two criteria appear
to be unsatisfactory measures of Stage 6. The example of immediate imitation cited by Piaget was his
daughter’s repeatedly bringing her arms around herself—a warming motion that she saw him do, and that
she had not done before. As an example of delayed imitation, he cited her laughing as she imitated her
cousin’s temper tantrum, which she had observed the day before. According to Piaget, she, herself, had
never had a temper tantrum.
As early as 6 to 9 months, however, children will tend to imitate a novel movement. And, after
considerable delay, they will imitate that movement upon seeing the model again (Meltzoff & Moore,
1998). Some of this imitative behavior is context bound. If one changes the surrounding circumstances—
for example, from the laboratory to the child’s home—a 6-month-old will not do what the model did
(further evidence of the undifferentiation of the infant’s world). But a 12-month-old, who presumably is in
late Stage 4 or early Stage 5, will imitate a previously modeled action when the context is completely
It should be noted, however, that Meltzoff and Moore’s findings that involve imitation do not invalidate the
distinctions between self and object, and between mental image and perception, that occur in Stage 6 as
measured by search behavior.
the previous examples of behavior of Stages 3 through 6, it appears that all stage
typical schemes are in part or in whole conscious. Are earlier schemes conscious?
I assume that in the newborn, by and large, schemes are not differentiated
from one another, including schemes during the waking state and the sleeping state.
At about 6 weeks, infant behavior indicates that waking state schemes have begun to
become distinct from sleeping state schemes. Schemes part of which is the RAS
scheme are distinct from schemes part of which is the RSS scheme.
Around 6 weeks, the infant s behavior involving vision might indicate
differentiation of waking state schemes from sleeping state schemes. Piaget wrote,
Perception of light exists from birth…All the rest perception of forms, sizes,
positions, distances, prominence, etc. is acquired through the combination of reflex
activity with higher activities 1963, p. 62. He cited as evidence the fact that
Preyer s 6 day old son s turned his head toward the window. Johnson 1998 reported
that newborns follow the configuration of a face. Piaget found that at the end of the
first week, his son s expression changed when he was near luminous objects, and that
he sought them when they moved, but was unable to follow them. Piaget s 16 day old
daughter exhibited similar behavior. Both children followed a light by day 21.
These last two behaviors could not be expected from a child who is asleep.
Yet, does such behavior indicate consciousness of light? Generally, when a person s
eyes are open, that person is awake. However, when the newborn s eyes follow a
light or a face, it is not entirely clear whether his visual scheme is conscious. Is
looking in a direction seeing? As noted earlier, light seeking appears to be a prewired
reflex, like sucking and grasping. Some persons who are comatose follow a light with
their eyes. Also some persons usually infants and young children sleep with their
eyes open. In either case, when not dreaming they are not conscious. Also, Johnson
1998 reported that anencephalics follow a facial configuration. Is the anencephalic
seeing? It is likely that, to begin with, following of a light is a reflex is purely
mechanical much like the grasping or sucking reflex.
At about 5 weeks, Piaget s son interrupted crying and, though he was
unsuccessful, attempted to find the source of a voice. At about 6 weeks, when he
heard the sound of his rattle, he looked in the right direction. One does not expect
such behavior during sleep or without being conscious. However, although it seems
unlikely, it is possible that although Piaget s son interrupted crying and appeared to
attempt to localize a sound, the motor and proprioceptive coordination to equalize
the sound to each ear and to look in the direction of the sound is merely a
Nonetheless at about 6 weeks, visual hearing schemes might distinguish
waking state cognition from sleeping state cognition.44 Two other changes in
behavior, however, definitely distinguish waking state cognition from sleeping state
During the first 6 weeks, the sucking reflex can be elicited whether the infant
is asleep or awake. However, after 6 weeks, the sucking reflex can be elicited only
during sleep Vaughn & McKay, 1975 . So at 6 weeks, when the sucking reflex can no
longer be elicited if the infant is awake, there is a difference between the waking
and sleeping state sucking schemes, with all of their many relationships.45
In the blind infant, hearing could differentiate waking from sleeping schemes, and in an infant who for
some reason cannot suck, sight may substitute for sucking.
After 6 months of age, awake or asleep, the sucking reflex can no longer be elicited unless brain function
What about the grasping reflex? It plays a role in early cognitive development. Does it in any way indicate
when waking-state schemes are differentiated from sleeping-state schemes? Awake or asleep, the grasping
reflex can be elicited for the first 6 months or so. Thereafter, like the sucking reflex, it cannot be elicited
unless brain function is impaired. Unlike the disappearance of the sucking reflex from the waking state, the
Also, at about 6 weeks, Piaget s son smiled in response to a familiar voice, and
generally the smile becomes social at around 2 months.46 Under ordinary
circumstances, the smile is exploited both by the infant and by the caregiver. In
time, each discovers what the other finds joyful. First, the mother is captured by the
infant s smile. Later, the infant smiles when the mother smiles.
Rochat sees the infant as having changed markedly at about 2 months. He
By two to three months infants will bring their hands and feet into view for
long periods of exploration and will start cooing, babbling, and making all kinds of
repetitive sounds with their mouths. They might shake their heads vigorously from
side to side, then stop suddenly and burst into a smile. They will repeat the sequence
over and over again, like toddlers discovering dizziness by spinning until they fall to
the ground with delight. 2001, p. 38
Rochat interprets this change as an emerging self. I will discuss his
interpretation in the next chapter. I interpret this change in behavior at about 6
weeks to 2 months as conscious schemes being more distinct. The behaviors
indicate that waking state, conscious schemes have begun to be separate from
sleeping state, non conscious schemes.
To Begin with, the Schemes are so Undifferentiated that they Fill the Cognitive
Between conception and birth great differentiation has taken place in the
brain, and presumably in cognition. Nevertheless, following Piaget, I assume that
the Stage 1 infant s brain and cognition are still extremely undifferentiated.
As I have already described, the newborn s schemes include a great deal more
than what we see. We see that, when the region around the mouth is contacted, the
newborn sucks. But, his sucking scheme his cognition potentially
includes/assimilates to it warmth of an adjacent body, position sense, warmth of the
milk dribbling down the cheek, and much more, as listed in chapter 1. The sucking
scheme assimilates any activation that is cotemporaneous to it or related to it, now
or in the past. It follows then that, when the neonate is sucking, the sucking scheme
constitutes cognition that is, it is all of cognition. The sucking scheme could be
expected to fill the cognitive space.
Similarly, when the newborn is grasping, the grasping reflex scheme is
cognition. It fills the cognitive space.
Each fills all of cognitive space? Given how global the sucking and grasping
schemes are, one might anticipate that the sucking and grasping schemes may not be
entirely distinct from each other. If, however, the two schemes or neuronal circuits
have no connection to each other, then they might as well be in different brains
they might as well constitute completely different cognitive spaces until they
mutually assimilate each other, as when the child sucks his thumb or hand or, still
later, when the child brings everything he grasps to his mouth.
The point I want to make here is that, in the early stages, schemes, when
active, are the whole of cognition.
The first evidence of differentiation of the sucking scheme is when the
hungry 20 day old extruded the experimenter s finger. This behavior indicated
temporary differentiation of the hungry sucking scheme from the not hungry
disappearance of the grasping reflex does not help us distinguish waking-state schemes from sleeping-state
Initially, it is not clear that the smile indicates that the infant is conscious of a pleasant feeling.
Incidentally, the smile is first manifest during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (Emde, 1984).
sucking scheme. I say temporary because, after a bit, the infant resumed sucking
the experimenter s finger.
Halfway through Stage 2, at six weeks, the differentiation of the sucking
scheme that is, the differentiation of cognition is more abiding. As already
mentioned, the sucking reflex may no longer be elicited during the waking state.
However, the reflex may still be elicited during the sleep till 6 months of age. At six
weeks, as undifferentiated as the sucking scheme is during the waking state, the
scheme has its own distinguishing form and content. When the reticular activating
system is activating the cerebral cortex, the reflex part of the sucking scheme is gone.
Where has it gone?
Presumably it is inhibited buried in the mechanics, because it is still
manifest during sleep for the next 4 months or so, and because it may reappear when
the brain is damaged or during an intoxicated state.
At 6 weeks to 2 months, when the infant exhibits the social smile and when
the sucking reflex disappears from the waking state, waking state cognition starts to
be distinguishable from sleeping state cognition. Another way of putting this is that
the sucking scheme when the RAS scheme is part of it is divided somewhat from the
sucking scheme when the RSS scheme is part of it.
I have already argued that, beginning in Stage 3, all stage typical behaviors,
which were described by Piaget, index waking state schemes an essential part of
such schemes being the activation of the cerebral cortex by the RAS. However, Stage
3 schemes in the waking state continue extremely undifferentiated. Their
operational mode is cumulative as they extend cognition to include distal sensory
systems. Striking and watching or listening are mutually assimilated to an entire
repertoire of behaviors striking with the foot or arm, arching the back, and so on.
See chapter 2. The infant may suck the block she grasps, may strike it on a hard
surface, may listen to the noise it makes. As mentioned earlier, in Stage 3 there is no
clear division between waking state schemes as yet no clear divisions within the
waking cognitive space.
In Stage 4, we begin to see such divisions. When the child strikes an object
to grasp another and when she searches under a screen for a fully hidden object, we
see the beginning of divisions of the waking cognitive space. In Stage3, a piece of
the object had to show, the hand must have grazed the object, or she must be in the
process of grasping the object for her to search under the screen no clear division
between the object and the screen or the object and the self. In Stage 4, cognitive
space in the waking state is beginning to be divided in terms of objects and the self as
an object. In both instances, there a division of waking cognitive space into different
object schemes the two different objects, the object and the screen based on
appearance and preference. Also, when the infant strikes one object to grasp
another, the striking scheme is exercised before the grasping scheme. There is a
division of the waking cognitive space into a beginning self in terms of preferring one
object more than another and in an ordering of motor behavior.
I am stressing division here in order to stress the notion that the waking
cognitive space is being divided up. But one could say that the schemes are being
articulated ala Piaget in a way they never were before that the waking cognitive
space is being organized in a way that will lead to separate schemes of objects
including the self.
In Stage 5, the waking cognitive space is divided further in terms of objects
and in terms of the self as an object. Children no longer make the A not B error.
Their own past successful action is no longer part of their effort to search for a
hidden object. As mentioned in chapter 2, children are advanced students of edges
of objects. They pull on a string, a refinement or extension of edges, to obtain an
object. They pick up a matchbook that rests on a platform even when the
matchbook is not moving, and they may pull on the platform to bring the
matchbook within reach. They will search for an object that they watched being
hidden under one screen, but will not search under a second screen secreted under
the first. The child must have some kind of representation in her mind of the object
going behind the screen. In some detail in chapter 5, I will discuss the kind of
representation she has.
Finally in Stage 6, activation from the RAS the RAS scheme continues as
part of the schemes as, in the stages, they were sculpted/constructed from all that
was accumulated, past and present, to become mental images that belong to the self
and percepts that belong to the outside world different forms of consciousness.
Conscious cognitive space is divided into schemes of different objects that are either
mental images or are perceptions.
Along the way from stage 4 to Stage 6, What Happens to Consciousness What
Happens to Schemes, Part of which is the RAS Scheme?
In stage 4, the infant learns to knock aside an intervening object to grasp a
toy. The schemes begin to be ordered in ways that work better, to that extent, mere
assimilation of one scheme by another is displaced in awareness. Put another way,
the RAS scheme circuitry that is enhanced by activity of the RAS is part of the
striking then grasping scheme. To that extent, the RAS scheme is less a part of the
mere striking and grasping and grasping and striking scheme.
She will also search for a toy that is fully hidden by a screen. She appears to
have some sort of picture scheme of the toy that is active without seeing the toy.47
That picture scheme is divided from her schemes of touching of the object, of her
making a grasping motion and of her looking at the experimenter s hand that hid the
toy, as they were in Stage 3. The RAS scheme is part of that picture scheme of the
toy, which is no longer part of current touching, grasping motion, or looking at the
experimenter s hand schemes. The RAS picture scheme is, however, still part of the
scheme of her past successful retrieval of the toy as evidenced by her making the A
not B error. It may be noted that the past is still part of the present.
In Stage 5, the child no longer makes the A not B error. She searches where
ever she last saw the toy disappear. The RAS scheme, which is part of the picture
scheme of the toy s most recent disappearance under a screen, is distinct from any
RAS scheme that is part of the scheme of past successful retrieval. In this instance
apparently, if the child is aware of her successful past scheme, to some extent, the
past scheme is just a memory. However, although she searches where she last saw
the toy disappear, she will not search under a second screen if she has not watched it
being hidden there. Her picture of the toy is not distinct from her scheme of the
screen under which she saw it disappear. The picture scheme of the screen, part of
which is the RAS scheme, is not distinct from the scheme of seeing the toy disappear
under the screen. Additionally, though it is more limited, the past the
disappearance is still part of the present.
In Stage 6, the child searches under any number of screens for a toy. The
RAS scheme is part of current schemes of self, objects screens and toys , that are
mental images or percepts, each relatively distinct from one another. These
conscious schemes are generally distinct from past conscious schemes of successful
actions or of pictures, for example the toy having disappeared under a screen.
I have adopted Piaget’s use of the term picture to refer to conscious schemes that are not either percepts
or mental images.
After Stage 6
It should be noted that in Stage 6 and early in the preoperational period
boundaries between waking state schemes of objects, part objects and attributes are
permeable. As examples in chapter 6 will show, a change in clothing, a color or an
action may redefine someone or some thing, just as the color grey defined dog.
Boundaries between words, part objects, and attributes are blurred.
In later stages, conscious cognitive schemes are divided further, when part
object schemes and attribute schemes are more distinct from object schemes and
more distinct from one another. Included in attribute schemes are size, color,
actions, trustworthy, and so on. Perception and mental image schemes of attributes
may then be divided into pieces of a continuum and from one another.
Waking state schemes are parsed as object schemes, percept schemes and
mental image schemes in Stage 6. However as just noted, boundaries of schemes of
different objects, part objects, attributes and so on are still blurred in Stage 6 and in
the preoperational period. Generally later in development, waking state schemes of
objects, mental images, percepts, words both thought and heard are bounded more
reliably when attributes, such as size and color, are divided from each other and each
is divided along a continuum. Similarly, the RAS scheme would be expected to be
divided into pieces of a continuum as part of an attribute of percept schemes and
mental image schemes of objects, including the self the percept or mental image
being more or less vivid.
Perhaps at some point consciousness, like the attribute redness, becomes
autonomous. Perhaps it becomes distinct from content, and even distinct from the
sense of being awake. We certainly are aware of degrees of alertness and of
Usually, however, consciousness is not distinct from what we think of as the
content of consciousness for example, the sense of redness, of an idea, or of a
feeling. Usually consciousness is about something a percept, a mental image, or a
thought of something whether in the present or in the past.
Some persons report states of blank consciousness. When meditating, Yoga
experts in one study maintained an EEG characterized by Alpha brain waves 8 to
10 electrical waves per second. They described their state as consciousness that is
devoid of content Anand, Chhina, & Baldev Singh, 1969 . Although these types of
consciousness appear to be exceptions, and although consciousness is perhaps never
entirely free of content, we may speak of consciousness that is devoid of content
that is, phenomenal consciousness.
If one starts with very undifferentiated schemes, one can trace the
vicissitudes in the construction of experience of consciousness just as Piaget traced
the construction of objects and later attributes of objects, such as redness.
Early in development, the redness scheme assimilates to itself many, related
kinds of aliment includes the sight of red blocks, a red wagon, red balls, and blue
balls, along with fun with Daddy, We don t cross the street when the light is red,
Look the sky is red, and the attendant emotions, as well as redness as a mental
image or as a percept.
Later, unlike attributes such as redness, consciousness the RAS scheme
keeps its connections to the sight of red blocks, a red wagon, red balls, and blue balls,
along with fun with Daddy, We don t cross the street when the light is red,
Look the sky is red, and the attendant emotions, as well as redness as a mental
image or as a percept. 48
Perhaps this reference to redness would be clearer, if I describe how I think a child constructs the
experience of a color. In order to see how an attribute such as a color is differentiated, it is appropriate to
provide a brief review of later stages in cognitive development than have been provided thus far. In the
next 3 chapters, I will do a more detailed analysis of these later stages.
In chapters 1 and 2, I described the changes in self-object schemes in the six sensorimotor stages. I see
Stage 6 of the Sensorimotor Period (16-24 mo.) and the Symbolic Phase (2-4 yrs.) as qualitatively the
same. By then, the child’s object-schemes, including the self-scheme, are generally distinct from one
another. Still, in the Symbolic Phase, a shared attribute may blur the boundary between two objects and
between object and attribute. Piaget’s daughter explained that a picture of a cat was of a dog because it was
grey. The attribute color defined an animal’s type.
In the next phase—the Intuitive Phase (5-7 yrs.)—the child begins to differentiate attributes. She has a
beginning notion that attributes such as size and color may be graded and that objects may be classified
based on such attributes. For example, the child may arrange several objects according to size or depth of
color—for example, shades of grey or red—or sort some objects based on differences in their attributes, but
will falter when arranging or sorting a larger group of objects.
In the Concrete Operational Period (8-11 yrs.) the child starts with a plan when arranging or sorting objects
in terms of their attributes. The child will start with the smallest or largest, or darkest or lightest and then
continue, regardless of the number of objects. She can sort, based on any combination of attributes.
Clearly at this point, attributes—such as color--are distinct from any one object and exist on a continuum.
I propose that one s sense of redness is constructed during the waking state
from repeat brain activation of cerebral cortical neuronal circuits that are
downstream from red sensitive retinal cone cells. These red sensitive retinal cone
cells respond to the red portion of the electromagnetic spectrum that is, the range
of colors of light. These red sensitive cells respond at a lower intensity of red light
than they do to other portions of the spectrum. The other retinal cones, although
they respond to red light of sufficient intensity, are more responsive either to the
green or to the blue portions of the electromagnetic spectrum.
Early in development, considering the infant s global and undifferentiated
schemes, redness is activation of the neuronal circuits downstream from the red
cones plus activation of many other circuits. Redness could include activation of
neuronal circuits by the sight of red blocks, a red wagon, red balls, and blue balls,
along with fun with Daddy, and so on. At that time, activation of each of these
diverse and widespread neuronal circuits would be part of redness to a greater or
lesser extent, depending on the frequency and salience of their relationship to the
activation of neuronal circuits downstream from red cones.
During the awake state, along with the above circuit activation, another part
of redness is the facilitation of activation of widespread neuronal circuits and
transmission between these neuronal circuits by activation of the RAS through the
thalamocortical tracts. With time, the awake state scheme of redness also includes
sounds such as We don t cross the street when the light is red, and Look the sky
is red, the attendant emotions, and so on.
And with more time assisted by emotions, maturation, and interaction with
the environment the scheme of redness becomes largely distinct from schemes of
red blocks, of a red wagon, of red balls, and more so from schemes of blue balls, of
fun with Daddy, and of the sounds of We don t cross the street and look or sky.
The conscious experience of redness, however, keeps special relationships to
colors, such as blueness and not redness, as it becomes absolutely tied to past or
present activation by the retina s red sensitive cone cells of a cortical circuit or
scheme, and to that circuit s being activated by the activity of the RAS. I propose
that this sequence constructs our perception of redness. The mechanics of color
processing are known to involve opponent processes that will not be gone into here.
Schematically, construction of a sense of consciousness is no different from
construction of the sense of a color or of the sense of an emotion that is, a feeling .
Just as the initial experience of redness is all the relationships of circuits downstream
from red cones, the initial consciousness is all the relationships downstream from a
What about non conscious schemes purely mechanical schemes or schemes
during sleep. We have no reason to believe that such schemes must necessarily be
differentiated into the forms taken by conscious schemes. And we have considerable
data from psychoanalytic studies and from manifestations of organic and functional
mental disorders to suggest that that often they are not. But this is not our focus
I have traced the differentiation of schemes that include waking state
activation that is, consciousness from the time when waking state schemes first
show some differences from sleeping state schemes until Stage 6 when, by some
measures, conscious object schemes including the self as an object are differentiated
from each other, and sketchily into Piaget s preoperational and concrete operational
periods. Chapters 6, 7 and 9 will present a more detailed account of organizations of
conscious cognition in these periods.
In chapter 5, I will explain what I think are the mechanics involved in
conscious schemes differentiation into mental image schemes and percept schemes,
and how I think conscious schemes are able to influence behavior.
facilitation of activation of the neuronal circuitry of the brain by the RAS. In time,
like redness becomes absolutely tied to activation by the red sensitive cone cells of
the retina, consciousness becomes absolutely tied to activation of the RAS. But,
unlike redness, consciousness retains some connections to red blocks, red wagon,
red balls, and blue balls, along with fun with Daddy, We don t cross the street when
the light is red, Look the sky is red, and the attendant emotions, as well as
redness, although each has become more maturely structured.
PERCEPT AND MENTAL IMAGE DIFFERENTIATION
In chapter 4, I described Piaget s studies of the stages in the child s search for
toys under screens. In Stage 6 16 24 months , the child who watched Piaget hide a
toy under a screen, but did not see him displace the toy under a different screen,
searched under both screens, or until she found the toy. When she was in Stage 5,
she searched only under the screen where she saw the toy disappear. Piaget
concluded that, in Stage 6, the child had a mental image scheme that is, she had an
abiding conscious representation of the toy in her mind that allowed her to continue
her search. To have a mental image a type of thought is a fundamental
achievement. Piaget proposed a special theory to account for the formation of
mental images in Stage 6.
In this chapter, I will contrast Piaget s theory of mental image formation with
my own. In addition to proposing a different mechanism than he proposed, I will
propose that the cognitive reorganization, which culminates in mental images in
Stage 6, takes place much earlier that the reorganization takes place in Stage 4.
Piaget s Mechanism
Piaget did not rely solely on assimilation and accommodation to explain the
formation of mental images. He proposed that, in Stage 6, mental images are formed
by interiorized action schemes. He supported his proposal by citing his observation
of his Stage 5 daughter opening and closing her mouth as she puzzled over how to get
an object out of a matchbox.49 She then used her finger to open the box and
retrieved the desired object. When she opened and closed her mouth, she appeared
to be using an action symbol for opening and closing. Piaget hypothesized that in
Stage 6, when an action symbol or scheme such as opening and closing one s
mouth no longer shows, the scheme is interiorized See footnote 18 for the
difference between interiorized and internalized . He hypothesized that mental
images are interiorized action schemes. When the child interiorizes the motor action, the
child is opening her mouth and/or the box in her mind. Piaget s concept that mental
images are interiorized action schemes is very similar to Freud s concept that
thought is an experimental way of acting.
Although in his descriptions of the sensorimotor schemes, Piaget made many
references to instances of the child s awareness or consciousness, he did not
incorporate these references into his theory of mental image formation. He treated
these instances of consciousness as incidental as merely ephemeral pictures. He
referred to the sensorimotor schemes as action schemes. Thelen s 1998 motor
action patterns, which were mentioned in chapter 2, are very much like Piaget s
Why Piaget thought of consciousness prior to Stage 6 as just pictures that
did not play a role in the construction of mental images, and why he proposed that
interiorization of action schemes was what generally formed mental images, is
The child’s imitation of the opening and closing of a box by opening and closing her mouth is an
example of cross-modal patterned wiring of different sensory and motor systems. The seeing-the-opening-
and-closing (of a box) pattern is wired to the neuromuscular opening-and-closing (of the mouth) pattern.
As will be evident toward the end of this chapter, observation of cross-modal patterned wiring is not rare.
One example is Piaget’s observation that when he winked at his child, she closed and opened her hand.
unclear. Perhaps he wanted to frame his theory in such a way that the schemes
would retain their connection to action that is, to motor behavior. If the mental
image was formed from an interiorized action scheme, the action, though inhibited
in expression, would continue as a part of the mental image part of a conscious
scheme. In that way, he could account for some conscious control of action.
It is also unclear why Piaget proposed that perception is in place in Stage 5.
Perhaps the answer is related to his insistence that the sensorimotor schemes were
action schemes.50 If perception is in place in Stage 5, when recovery of a hidden
object is first divorced from any successful physical action on it, then the scheme of
having seen the object is a perception. Later in this chapter, I will propose that
percept is not yet an autonomous construct in Stage 5.
In chapter 4, I proposed that prior to 6 weeks, when waking state schemes
are not distinct from sleeping state schemes, the concept of conscious schemes has
no meaning. Also prior to 6 weeks, the infant is awake for very short periods. So,
any distinction between the schemes that are active in the waking state and those
that are active in the sleeping state is minimal, at best. At about 6 weeks to 2
months, however, the change in the sucking reflex the loss of the sucking reflex
when awake and its persistence during sleep and the appearance of the social smile
mark reasonably clear distinctions between schemes in the waking state and schemes
in the sleeping state distinction between conscious and unconscious cognition.
These two changes in behavior that can be attributed to differentiation between
conscious and unconscious schemes take place just before the beginning of Stage 3.
In chapter 4, I also proposed that Stage 3 typical schemes are conscious. The
behaviors that characterize Stage 3 require that the child be awake, not asleep or
unconscious either in the sense of unaware or in the sense of coma . Hence, Stage 3
typical schemes are assumed to have the waking state as one of their components. In
addition, the kinds of behavior that characterize the later stages are unlikely to occur
unless the waking state is part of the scheme. Thus beginning with Stage 3, the
cerebral cortical activity that characterizes waking, or consciousness, is part of every
stage typical scheme.
Differentiation of Mental Image and Percept
I have explained why I think that, beginning in Stage 3, Piaget charted only
waking state, or conscious, schemes. In earlier chapters, I described the qualitative
changes in schemes, much as Piaget described them. These changes culminate in
Stage 6, when mental images and percepts are constructs that are reasonably distinct
from each other.
Piaget emphasized that schemes are active in two ways. First, Piaget’s observations of the newborn’s
looking behavior led him to conclude that, like sucking and grasping, the visual system appears to seek—
that the newborn has a reflexlike need to look. Recall that Piaget reported that from the first week, his son’s
expression changed when he saw luminous objects, and that he sought them as soon as they moved, though
he was unable to follow them. Second, at times Piaget used the term to act on an object with the eyes. This
term conveys not only the active quality of the looking scheme, but also the idea that looking includes
motor control of the muscles that move the eyes and the head and neck, along with proprioceptive
monitoring. From the beginning action—motor control of behavior—is an intrinsic part of the scheme.
Piaget’s emphasis on the action aspect of early schemes has sometimes misled readers into thinking that the
schemes are activations of the muscles, rather than activations of the brain, an intrinsic part of which
activation is proprioceptive and motor control activation.
Both Freud and Piaget advanced theories to account for the distinction
between percepts and mental images. I believe that they were both off on their time
lines. Piaget proposed that perception is in place in Stage 5. I propose that when the
Stage 5 child fails to search under a second screen, his percept and mental image
schemes remain undifferentiated from each other. In Stage 5, what is pictured in the
presence of the object a percept is not distinct from what is pictured in the
absence of the object a mental image. These schemes can be referred to as proto
percepts and proto mental images. They are like hallucinations. When one hallucinates,
one senses a picture or some words in one s mind as a kind of perception that is, as
belonging to the outside world. It should not be surprising that the boundaries of
schemes in Stage 5 are permeable. As I mentioned in chapters 4, a Stage 5 child will
attempt to put a ring on a stick by touching the ring to the side of the stick. Schemes
of objects can pass through each other.
Stage 5 is an interesting stage. It is a stage when the child actively
experiments. The child discovers that she must pass the inside edge of the ring
around the end of the stick, in order put the ring on the stick. Similarly, if a child
happens to flip a box by pressing on its edge, she will push on various parts of the
box until she discovers that she must push on the edge to make the box flip.
Keeping in mind the Stage 5 child s propensity to experiment to test what
works I propose that, by Stage 6, the child has discovered that proto percepts are
more gratifying than proto mental images. The scheme of an object that is present
may be picked up, thrown, or eaten. The conscious scheme of an object in the
object s absence is not as gratifying as the conscious scheme of an object when the
object is present. The scheme of an object that is not present cannot be picked up,
thrown, or eaten.
In Stage 6, when the proto percept of an object is recognized as more
gratifying, the proto percept of that object becomes a percept of that object. At the
same time, the proto mental image, once it is recognized as being less gratifying than
the percept, becomes a mental image. Based on relative gratification, percept and
mental image are thus differentiated from each other. Of course, this differentiation
takes place in the mind. Yet the percept schemes belong primarily to the outside
world, and the mental image schemes belong primarily to the self.
My theory of the differentiation of perception from mental image is basically
the same as Freud s. Freud 1934b proposed that the hungry newborn, in the absence
of the breast, hallucinates the breast. At some point early in the first year, the child
experiences a hallucinated breast as less gratifying than a perception of the breast.
At that point, the hallucination becomes a mental image a form of thought. Piaget
objected to Freud s proposal. Piaget stressed that percepts of the breast are not
givens, but must be constructed.
I propose that this differentiation between proto percept and proto mental
image takes place in Stage 6, at around 16 months to 2 years of age much later in
development than Freud thought it did.
My proposal also borrows from Piaget, but it differs from Piaget in several
ways. Piaget proposed that percept was constructed in Stage 5. As I explained above,
I propose that percept and mental image are still undifferentiated from each other in
Stage 5. Further, I propose that in Stage 5, the scheme organization a combined
scheme that does not distinguish percept from mental image does not work very
well. Emotional indicators of success and failure lead to Stage 6, in which percept
and mental image are differentiated from each other. In effect, the development of
Stage 6 from Stage 5 is an adaptation, an incremental extension of accommodations
that begin in Stage 4, when articulations of schemes begin to be exploited. The
cognitive shift from Stage 5 to Stage 6 need not require a special mechanism, as
Before I return to the two mysteries involving consciousness, it is time to
take stock. I have proposed that full myelination of the visual and touch sensory
tracts to the cerebral cortex assists a major reorganization of cognition in Stage 4,
and that merely incremental assimilation and accommodation account for the shift
from Stage 5 to Stage 6 cognition. In contrast, Piaget proposed psychological
mechanisms accounted for the change from Stage 3 to Stage 4 cognition and for the
change from Stage 4 to Stage 5 cognition. Additionally, he apparently thought of the
change from Stage 5 to Stage 6, not the change 3 to Stage 4, constituted a major
reorganization of cognition.
Regardless of which proposal is correct, what is essential to grasp about
Piaget s insights and his observations is that he showed how schemes, which are
undifferentiated to begin with, through interaction with themselves and through
sensory and motor interaction with the outside world, transform themselves. In
stages, they transform into basically distinct object schemes including the self as an
object scheme , percept schemes, and mental image schemes. By Stage 6, the child
has constructed relatively distinct conscious schemes in my terms, relatively
distinct waking neuronal circuit activity for different objects, and for percepts and
mental images. These schemes tend to operate using such partitioning, partitioning
that one might not regularly expect of operation of schemes that are unconscious or
that occur in states of altered consciousness.
Returning to the Two Mysteries
When I related waking to consciousness in chapter 4, I offered a solution to
the mystery of how matter the brain could give rise to consciousness. I proposed
that prior to 6 weeks, conscious/waking state schemes are not differentiated from
unconscious/sleeping state schemes. After 6 weeks to 2 months in the middle of
Stage 2 conscious schemes begin to be differentiated from unconscious schemes.
Then, late in Stage 3, with help from the complete myelination of the visual tracts,
and possibly complete myelination of the somatosensory tracts, conscious schemes
differentiate in stages into schemes that assist the child to succeed in his or her
interactions with the environment. This differentiation culminates in Stage 6, when
the child searches under any number of screens for an object. At that point, mental
image schemes and percept schemes are differentiated from one another. I have
described when I think that waking/conscious schemes become distinct from
sleeping/unconscious schemes, and then how the conscious schemes differentiate
into two forms mental images and percepts.
The second mystery is the flip side of the first. How is it possible for the
mind to influence the brain? As I have explained, in the newborn, motor control and
proprioception of motor action are integral to Piaget s schemes. In the newborn,
there is no division between what will be conscious/waking portions of a scheme or
what will be unconscious/sleeping portions of a scheme and the motor or action
control portions of that scheme. It is therefore unnecessary to explain how the
conscious portions and the motor control portions of schemes become connected.
They are connected to each other to begin with. It follows then that when
conscious schemes and unconscious schemes differentiate from each other, the
conscious schemes could be expected to retain some of their motor components, just
as unconscious merely mechanical schemes retain their motor components. To
account for conscious schemes influencing matter for the fact that the mind can
influence the brain we simply have to trace the forms that waking state schemes
take as they differentiate.
Piaget did this chore for us. I proposed that, beginning in Stage 3, Piaget
traced changes in waking state schemes changes in conscious cognitive structures.
At the same time, by default, we may see that he traced additions to unconscious
processing that are distinct from whether the child is awake or asleep. As cognitive
development proceeds, more differentiated waking state scheme organizations that
prove to be successful shape what tends to be conscious, while the child is awake.
The less differentiated, hence less successful scheme organizations, tend to be
unconscious. For example in Stage 3, the striking while watching or listening and the
watching or listening while striking is merely a kind of amalgam. There is no ordering
of its components. In contrast, the waking state schemes of Stage 4 are more
ordered. For example, reaching directly for the toy when there is another object in
the way is unsuccessful. To be successful, the child must strike the intervening object
before attempting to retrieve the toy. The child must take into account a distinction
between the scheme of the intervening object and the scheme of the toy. In Stage 4,
striking, watching, and listening actions are no longer interchangeable, as they were
in Stage 3. In Stage 5, when an object disappears under a screen, the child s past
success at retrieving the hidden object is no longer part of the object. In Stage 6,
hallucinatory object schemes that is, undifferentiated proto percepts and proto
mental images are organized out of conscious processing. Presumably these more
primitive neuronal circuitry organizations are not eliminated. To some extent, they
probably often continue to operate unconsciously, but are organized out of conscious
I have proposed that the visual tracts, which are fully myelinated just before
Stage 4, are exploited to culminate in Stage 6. The exploitation reorganizes out of
ordinary consciousness the early, less differentiated Stage 4 and Stage 5 scheme
organizations. The Stage 6 organization leaves available conscious mental images as
part of the self and percepts of objects including the self as an object .
This is a new scheme organization, pieces or wholes of which may be accessed
and ordered in thinking and behaving.51 However, because as yet we know of no
organic basis for the transition from Stage 5 to Stage 6 processing, the constructed
divisions of conscious schemes into mental images and percepts would not be
locked in by a change such as myelination, which generally solidifies downstream
neuronal circuitry. Boundaries between mental images and percepts would still
remain somewhat permeable. I will return to this in chapter 7, after I discuss
myelination of the auditory tract.
Block distinguishes four types of consciousness Clement & Malerstein,
2003 . Phenomenal consciousness refers to the experiential properties the qualia or the
what it is like of a conscious state. Access consciousness refers to a state in which a
representation is a poised for use as a premise of reasoning, b poised for rational
control of action, and c poised for rational control of speech. Self consciousness refers
to the possession of the concept of the self and the ability to use it in thinking about
oneself. Finally, monitoring consciousness refers to reflecting about one s own thinking.
By Stage 6, the first three types of consciousness are in place, although none
of the three is fully formed. The child experiences these types of consciousness. But
the child probably does not understand the distinctions between phenomenal,
access, and self consciousness until monitoring consciousness is in place. I propose
the following: Phenomenal consciousness is first manifest at about 6 weeks, when
conscious schemes are distinct from unconscious schemes. Access consciousness is
clearly manifest in Stage 4, when the child knocks an intervening object out of the
way and when he searches for a toy under a screen. Self consciousness is first clearly
manifest in Stage 6, when the child searches under a series of screens, uses personal
pronouns, and distinguishes mental images from percepts, although some notion of
consciousness of self is manifest in Stage 4, when intentional behavior is manifest.
Monitoring consciousness apparently begins at about Age 4, as measured by Perner s
1991 The False Belief Test. This test is discussed in chapter 6, Footnote 53.
My attempt to solve the mystery of consciousness is essentially a parceling
out of functions, with the waking state being a portion of certain schemes, in
contrast to all the many functions that occur unconsciously that is, mechanically
both awake and asleep. In equating initial consciousness with the waking state,
governed by the activity of the RAS, I connect material givens with what we think of
as nonmaterial processes thinking as a phenomenon and thinking as an agent that
can act on the material world.
Other Theorists Ideas About Self Object Differentiation
While constructivists, particularly Piaget, have gone to considerable trouble
to trace the development of self object differentiation, other theorists propose that
self, objects and people…are differentiated from birth and even possibly in the
womb Rochat, 2001, p. 27 . Rochat argued that if the infant does not know inside
from outside, he or she is subject to William James s buzzing, booming confusion.
That is, infants experience what we adults experience when we don t know the inside
from the outside. But as I explained, Piaget s notion that the infant s schemes are
active that is, selective at their level of organization does not militate toward a
state of confusion. It militates toward a kind of organization.
Stern 1985 proposed that, beginning at about 2 months, various forms of self
emerge at different times. These forms of self then continue throughout one s life.
Stern focused primarily on the development of forms of social self. His proposal that
these selves persist throughout life implies that one s social self is never absolutely
distinct from the selves of other social beings. This position is at odds with my
contention that some persons have cognitive motivational structures that are
autonomous. I will discuss these persons in chapter 9.
Stern 1985 proposed that an innate yoking of patterns of activity that
belong to the organism for example, the finger or fist, as seen or sucked p. 52 ,
forms the emergent self at about 2 months. He proposed that the finger or fist as
seen or sucked, since the activities center around the finger and fist, somehow form a
unity, an emergent self. He proposed that the other the nonself emerges from
the yoking of an already integrated experience with unlearned visual and tactile
sensations from the breast. Stern accorded a prominent role to the surges of affect,
which he called vitality affects, that the infant experiences…from within, as well as in
the behavior of other persons p. 54 . He acknowledged that self object
relationships are constructed to some extent. However, he held that the given internal
coherence of the organism is the primary source of the self, and of the different
forms of self.
To explain how the infant understands the object world, Stern cited the
yoking of different sensory modalities. Some of the studies that he cited depended
on habituation. For example, an infant s heart rate will increase when the infant is
exposed to repeated flashes of light. After prolonged exposure, the infant s heart
rate will return to normal. The infant has then habituated to the repeated flashes of
light. These studies found that during the first few weeks of life, infants will cross
habituate to a particular temporal correspondence of visual and auditory patterns of
activity. This holds true whether the correspondence is in duration or in rhythm
Allen, Walker, Symonds, & Marcell, 1977; Demany, McKensie, & Vurpillot, 1977;
Humphrey, Tees, & Werker, 1979; Stern, 1985 . For example, if a light is flashed at a
certain frequency, the infant s heart rate accelerates at first and after prolonged
exposure, returns to normal. After the infant s heart rate returns to normal, if a
sound is made at the same frequency as the light flashes to which the infant
habituated, the infant s heart rate remains normal. The habituation is to rhythm,
not to the sensory domain. Stern cited other examples of the yoking of different
sensory modalities. A blindfolded 3 week old was provided with a nubby nipple on
her bottle. When the blindfold was removed, she stared longer at a nubby nipple
than at a smooth nipple Meltzoff & Borton, 1979 . In this case, the irregularity of
proprioception and touch configuration of nubbiness in the infant s mouth was
yoked to an irregular visual pattern when the infant looked at the nubby nipple.
Other examples cited by Stern was a newborn s tendency to imitate the mouth and
tongue movements of an investigator Meltzoff & Moore, 1977 , and a newborn s
tendency to track a facial configuration Johnson, 1998 .
Stern proposed that prewired responses to a sensory pattern to rhythm, to
nubbiness, or to a facial configuration indicated that the child somehow uses the
yoking of different sensory systems to recognize that the outside world is outside
that it is nonself.
These examples of pattern prewiring of different sensory systems in the
infant can be interpreted in a different way. They can be seen as additional evidence
of the undifferentiated state of an infant s psyche. Different entry ports for
example, vision and proprioception as well as exit ports that is, the motor
systems are all interconnected in the newborn. In the examples noted above, the
visual system is pattern prewired to the auditory system when a light is flashed. The
visual system is also pattern prewired to the proprioception and to the motor
systems in the examples of staring at a nubby nipple, of imitating an investigator s
sticking out his tongue, and of tracking a facial configuration.
Consider these last three examples. The feeling of nubbiness, the sticking out
of one s tongue, and the moving of one s head and eyes are largely understood by
adults as belonging to self. In the infant, they are yoked to seeing a nubby nipple, an
investigator s tongue sticking out, and a movement of a face, respectively. Seeing a
nubby nipple, an investigator s tongue sticking out, and a movement of a face are
understood by adults as largely belonging to outside the self. These examples of
yoking cut across an adult s understanding of self and object. The yoking in the
newborn suggests undifferentiation of inside and outside undifferentiation of self
It should also be noted that the imitation of mouth movements fades,52 and
the following of a facial configuration with the head and eyes disappears about the
time that the grasping reflex disappears Johnson, 1998 . As noted in chapter 4,
Johnson also found that anencephalics follow a facial configuration. How much
these early, primitive sensory and motor relationships contribute to distinctions
between self and object in normal development is unknown.
Rochat 2001 agreed with Stern that the yoking of visual and auditory
patterns forms an early outside world for the infant. Infants perceive a unified
world across modalities. Rochat also agreed with Stern s proposal that the self is
manifest very early the evidence being the yoking of behaviors that belong to the
self. As I noted in chapter 4, Rochat interpreted the behavior of the 2 to 3 month
old child who repeatedly watches his hands and feet and shakes his head, and appears
to have such a good time doing so, as evidence of an emerging self.
Clearly, to the outside observer, this behavior and its scheme belong more to
the infant s self than they do to the outside world. Perhaps, some of the very early
schemes that are reflected in such coherent behavior continue as content of the self
scheme. Rochat ascribed volition to such behavior. Rochat also reported that a 2
month old may be entranced by the moving shadow of a curtain on a wall. Clearly,
to the outside observer, this response to the shadow belongs to outside the self.
Maratos first observed her young infant imitate another person sticking out her tongue when the infant
was lying on the floor of Inhelder’s apartment. (Inhelder was Piaget’s long-time associate.) (Inhelder,
conversation with author, November, 1985).
Perhaps, some of that kind of experience continues as content of the child s object
However, I interpret Rochat s observations as evidence that the infant s
consciousness is better defined at 2 or 3 months than it was earlier.53 Unlike Rochat,
I do not interpret the infant s watching her hands and feet, and having such a good
time doing so, as evidence of volition. It is true that there is a difference between
watching one s hands and feet move and being entranced by the movement of a
curtain. But whether the infant recognizes that the one belongs to the self and the
other to the outside is another matter. Does the infant know who owns the hands
and feet that are moving? Does she know whose tongue is protruding? Does she
know that lights and sounds that go on and off at the same frequency belong to the
outside world? These responses are not evidence of the kind of fundamental
distinction between self and object that begins to appear in Stage 4 and that
becomes much more definitive in Stage 6.
Rochat objected to Piaget s proposal that the infant has separate spaces a
scheme centering around sucking, a scheme centering around grasping, and so on
that are not united until later. I agree that this was an inconsistency on Piaget s part.
If the initial schemes are global and undifferentiated, as Piaget proposed, then they
do not have to be united later. A basic part of the argument in chapter 4 depended
upon the early scheme s extreme degree of undifferentiation. Sometimes, however,
they are somewhat separate. For example, at first, the hand must be in the same
visual field as the toy before the infant will reach for the toy. In this instance, the
reaching scheme must be coordinated with the grasping scheme before the infant
will reach for a toy that he sees. As I described in chapter 1, the schemes are
generally undifferentiated and global, as they assimilate aliment from different
sensory modalities and from motor control.
Rochat 2001 reported that he and Hesbos found that when a newborn s
hand touched her cheek, the newborn did not root as often as she did when a foreign
object touched her cheek. This behavior could indicate a distinction between self
and outside. The behavior also suggests that the newborn in this experiment is
object or outside seeking.
Much like Rochat, Damasio 1999 suggested that the self takes form from
emotions and proprioception. Certainly both emotions and proprioception belong
to the self to the inside, and not to the outside. By definition, an organism even a
one celled structure is differentiated from the outside. Whether the organism
knows that its self is different from the outside, or that the outside is different from
its self, is another matter. When the 2 month old hears or sees something, does he
know that the sound or light comes from outside? When he watches his feet and
hands and experiences the movement of his joints and muscles, does he know that
seeing belongs to the outside and proprioception belongs to the inside? When he
experiences joy as he watches his hands and feet move, and anger when his head is
restrained, does he know that joy and anger belong to the inside that is, to a self
as distinct from the outside?
As it is difficult to imagine what consciousness might be without a concept of
unconsciousness, so it is difficult to imagine what a self might be without a concept
of another object. Accordingly, at any point where the child differentiates objects, he
is on the road to differentiating the self. Much of Piaget s entire enterprise may be
seen as charting the differentiation of constructs of the object world and hence as
contributing to the differentiation of the constructs of the self. So, in some measure,
any differentiation of the newborn s state a state, in which the sucking scheme is
While watching her own hands and feet, or a curtain, occurs a bit before Stage 3, it takes place after 6
weeks, and it obviously takes place while the infant is awake. It is therefore consistent with my idea that
conscious schemes have become somewhat more distinct from unconscious schemes by 6 weeks.
both the object being sucked and the self doing the sucking could be seen as a
differentiation of the self. This is, of course, not what Stern, Rochat, or Damasio
mean. But if one wishes, one could view the differentiation of self from object as
beginning before or shortly after birth, depending on what one means by a
distinction between self and object.
I propose that beginning in Stage 3, conscious cognitive emotional schemes
are relatively distinct from unconscious cognitive emotional schemes. I propose that
in Stage 4, the conscious cognitive emotional scheme for self begins to become
significantly more distinct from the conscious cognitive emotional schemes for other
objects, and that the distinctions become still more definitive in Stage 6. These
distinctions, however, remain incomplete even during the later stages of cognitive
development and may not be entirely complete in normal adults. Indeed as I explain
in chapter 9, in the social domain particularly, differentiation of self from other
objects or external events remains incomplete in most adults.
Piaget s later stages of cognitive development are described in chapter 6. In
the course of describing these later stages I will suggest that a major cognitive
reorganization begins earlier than proposed by Piaget. The description of the later
stages of cognitive development will prepare the reader for chapter 7, where I
attribute a role in cognitive change to complete myelination of the auditory tracts,
and for chapter 9, where I address Ahern s and my theory of character formation.
COGNITIVE ORGANIZATIONS AFTER THE SENSORIMOTOR
As I noted in the beginning of chapter 2, Piaget divided cognitive
development into four periods. So far, I have focused on the first of these the
Sensorimotor Period 0 2 years . In this chapter, I will discuss the other three. This
chapter s focus is the Preoperational Period 2 7 years , particularly the change in
cognitive organization that begins with the onset of the Intuitive Phase 2 4 years .
Delineation of this change anticipates chapter 7, where I will explain how complete
myelination of the auditory tract would assist the cognitive reorganization that
characterizes Intuitive Phase cognition.
The descriptions of the three types of cognition that characterize the
Preoperational Period and the Concrete Operational Period also prepare the reader
for chapter 9. In chapter 9, I discuss the relationship between these three types of
cognition in children to three types of social cognition that Ahern and I found in
The Preoperational Period
Piaget s Preoperational Period is divided into two phases, the Symbolic or
Preconceptual Phase 2 4 years and the Intuitive Phase 5 7 years . Toward the end
of the Sensorimotor Period and continuing into the Symbolic Phase, children have
the use of language, although their language is not as sophisticated as it begins to be
in the Intuitive Phase. Once children use language, it becomes the primary vehicle
that investigators use to understand the organization of children s cognition.
Investigators no longer need to rely solely on the interpretation of children s
behavior in order to understand the children s cognitive processes.
The Symbolic Phase
Apparently, Piaget drew a clear distinction between Stage 6 cognition and
Symbolic Phase cognition he located them in different periods of development. I
question this distinction. I fail to see a qualitative difference between the cognitive
organization of Stage 6 of the Sensorimotor Period and the cognitive organization of
the Symbolic Phase of the Preoperational Period.
Children in the Symbolic Phase appear to continue to use lines and edges
shapes to distinguish or define objects. For example, it is not unusual for a
Symbolic Phase child to explain that a person is a woman because she wears a dress
or has long hair. When Piaget s daughter Jacqueline was about 2 , she referred to a
slug, 10 yards from a slug that she had just seen, as the slug. To Jacqueline, two
animals with the same shape a similar set of edges were spoken of as if they were
the same animal.
Piaget, a very astute investigator, could not quite tell whether his daughter
thought that the two slugs were the same slug or not. He said that the question
appeared to have no meaning for her. Probably he was unable to be certain because
the Symbolic Phase child draws no clear distinction between similar and the same.
At about the same age, Jacqueline explained that a picture of a cat was of a
dog because it was grey. The attribute color defined an animal s type. At almost 3,
she was frightened when she looked at a picture of herself being carried on a hillside.
She failed to distinguish fully her actual self from a picture of her self a different
object, a representation of herself that shared various attributes with her, including
Symbolic Phase children define an object by a part or by an attribute of that
object. The child s definition of an object by a single attribute or part object for
example, shape, size, color, or hair length and the failure to completely distinguish
one s self from a representation of one s self a picture exemplify Symbolic Phase
cognition. The boundary between object and part object, attribute, or
representation picture, symbol, or word is permeable.54
Symbolic Phase cognition is particle to particle. In particle to particle
cognition, a part object, attribute, representation, symbol, or word may define an
object. A change in any one of these particles may redefine that object.
When my twin grandchildren were 2, their older brother was almost 4.
Everywhere the family went, people would ooh and ah over the twins. The children s
well meaning parents wanted the older boy to feel important too. As his birthday
approached, they repeatedly said how grown up he would be, and what a big boy
he would be, when he was 4. With great relief, on the morning of his birthday he
declared that he was still himself. He was relieved that he was still a little boy. He
had not wakened to find himself completely redefined or redesigned.
It is not likely that he had been afraid that he would be expected to contend
with adult responsibilities. It was more likely that he was afraid that he would
become a full sized man overnight. His understanding of grown up or big boy was not
the same that of his parents. To them, these words meant more adultlike or more
mature than his siblings, hence better than the twins were by this particular measure.
To his parents, grown up or big boy was a desirable social attribute. But the
child s understanding of big boy or grown up referred to a completely redefined
scheme of an object a total transformation of one object into another. A self could
be changed by the parents word big boy or grown up or by a particular birthday or
Piaget recounted a number of examples of particle to particle cognition
during the Symbolic Phase. When his 3 year old daughter Jacqueline behaved as her
cousin had, she became Clive jumping, Clive running, Clive laughing Piaget, 1962,
p. 125 . Attributes of her cousin redefined her. She insisted that her sister was not her
sister when her sister was wearing unusual clothes. Clothes, a part object, defined
her sister. At the same age, she asked for an orange and was told that oranges were
green, meaning unripe. Later that day, when she saw some camomile tea, which was
yellow, she said, Camomile isn t green. Give me some oranges. The boundaries are
all permeable: between objects camomile and oranges; between words, symbols,
and attributes greenness and ripeness; between the attributes of different objects
the color of camomile and the color of oranges. A little girl who while on vacation
had asked various questions about the mechanics of the bells observed on an old
village church steeple, now stood stiff as a ramrod by her father s desk, making a
deafening noise. Her father said, You re bothering me, you know. Can t you see
I m working? Don t talk to me, replied the girl. I m the church. The same child
Piaget (1962) distinguished the term symbol from the term sign. To Piaget, the term symbol designated
something that shares an attribute with the object or activity that it represents. For example, when
pretending to fall asleep, Piaget’s daughter used the mane of a toy horse to substitute for—to represent—
the fringe of her blanket. Because the mane was similar to the fringe, the mane was a symbol. Piaget
reserved the term sign to designate words. Words are arbitrary. They need share no attributes with what
had been impressed at seeing a plucked duck on the table and that evening lay
motionless on the sofa. Piaget thought that she might be ill. At first, she did not
respond to questions. Then, in a faraway voice, she said, I m the dead duck! Piaget
& Inhelder, 1969, pp. 59 60 .
Some investigators insist that a 2 to 4 year old distinguishes real from make
believe. That is, they insist that the child who is wearing a sheriff s badge knows that
he is not really the sheriff. That is true at times. Certainly a Symbolic Phase child
who pretends to eat a plastic slice of pizza and does not bite it, is distinguishing real
from make believe in that instance. However, anyone who tries to take away the
little sheriff s badge is likely to regret it.
Particularly between the ages of 2 and 4, but extending through the
Preoperational Period, it is not always clear whether children are pretending, or truly
believe, that they are the sheriff. The child does not fully separate a part object, the
clothes, or a symbol for example, a badge from a person, and certainly not from
the person s role. Millar 1968 wrote that, when her 2 year old daughter scribbled on
paper, she said that she was a writer. And why shouldn t she? Why should she think
that her marks on paper were any different from her mother s marks on paper? Does
a child understand signs and symbols, the writing profession, or book publishing?
In the Symbolic Phase, words are treated in the same way that part objects
are treated. Sharp, a word or sound, may be part of a particular pair of scissors, just as
clothes were part of even defined Jacqueline s sister. During this same phase, to
the child, objects that share an attribute may be the same object. Jacqueline referred
to a garden that was similar to her uncle s garden as Uncle Alfred s garden.
To summarize: Part object, symbol, word, attribute, and object are not fully
differentiated from one another in Symbolic Phase thought. In the Symbolic Phase,
identity of self or of an object may be based on one or several insufficient attributes
or part objects. Similar and the same are not distinct. If two objects share an
attribute, they may become the same object. If an attribute of an object changes, the
object may become a different object. As in the Sensorimotor Period, the boundaries
continue to be blurred. They are blurred between one object and another the
child s self and the sheriff; the badge and the sheriff; the child and whatever grown up
or big boy meant to the 4 year old; Jacqueline and the picture of Jacqueline;
Jacqueline and her cousin; Jacqueline s sister and another child; camomile tea and
oranges. And the boundaries are blurred between objects, part objects, symbols,
words, and attributes the badge and the sheriff; the appearance of slugs and a
particular slug; jumping and being someone else; the sister and her clothes; the color
of one object and the color of another object; color as an attribute of an object and
color as a word for ripeness; grown up meaning more mature or older and grown up
meaning being totally changed overnight. When the boundary between an object
and its attributes is blurred, there is necessarily a blurring between objects, since
distinctions between objects depend upon differences in sets of attributes. In the
Symbolic Phase, words, objects, part objects, and attributes are often treated as if
they were equivalent to each other.
The Intuitive Phase
Piaget thought of the two divisions of the Preoperational Period the
Symbolic and the Intuitive as phases rather than as stages, because Intuitive
cognition does not replace Symbolic cognition Inhelder, conversation with the
author, November, 1985 . Throughout the Intuitive Phase, children continue to
manifest particle to particle cognition, although they do so less frequently than they
did during the Symbolic Phase.
Unlike Piaget, as I explained in chapter 3, I believe that Stage 4, not Stage 6,
of the Sensorimotor Period marks the beginning of a major shift in cognitive
organization. In addition, I believe that the Intuitive Phase of the Preoperational
Period marks the beginning of another major shift. Here again, I differ with Piaget.
He thought that the major shift was not during the Intuitive Phase, but during the
Concrete Operational Period, when children usually master seriation and
Intuitive Phase children, however, begin to understand both seriation and
classsification. They begin to understand seriation that objects may be ordered
along the dimension of an attribute. For example, they begin to arrange sticks by
length. Also, they begin to understand that objects may be classified, based on
whether or not they share an attribute. For example, they begin to cull blue squares
from an assortment of differently colored objects. Because children begin to
understand both seriation and classification in the Intuitive Phase, I argue that the
Intuitive Phase marks the beginning of a major shift in cognition.
Intuitive Phase children s understanding of the seriation and classification of
attributes is flawed Inhelder & Piaget, 1969 . These children may arrange a few
sticks by length. But then they falter. They have only a notion of what seriation is.
When collecting blue squares, they may cull out several blue squares from an
assortment of objects. But then they may shift to collecting all blue objects. They
have only a notion of what classification is.
But my point is that Intuitive Phase children show beginning understanding
of both seriation and classification. Symbolic Phase children showed no such
understanding. When asked to arrange objects, they made a design they arranged
the objects to form a circle or a train.
However, Intuitive Phase children tend to assess an attribute by a current,
striking dimension. Generally, they say that the car that finishes a race first is the
fastest car, regardless of the route that it took. They insist that they have more
candies to eat if the candies are spread out. They are certain that they have more
juice to drink if the juice comes to the brim of the glass, or if the juice is poured from
a wide glass into a narrow glass and so rises higher. When asked to arrange sticks
according to length, Intuitive Phase children may do so by creating steps of a
staircase in which the bottoms of sticks form a horizontal line. But then, as they
continue the staircase pattern, they may ignore the lengths of the sticks. They do
not notice that the bottoms of the sticks are all uneven. One view the staircase
pattern becomes their focus. Their understanding of dimensions of an attribute is
intuitive, not systematic. For example, they do not understand transitivity that if
A is longer than B, and if B is longer than C, then A is longer than C.
In the course of grouping objects by attributes or combinations of
attributes that is, classifying Intuitive Phase children may change criteria. As I
just mentioned, they may cull several blue squares from an assortment of objects and
then add differently shaped blue objects to their collection. It is as if they were
captured by blueness, just as they were captured by staircaseness. Their beginning
understanding of classification, like their understanding of seriation, is intuitive. It
is not systematic. Intuitive Phase children do not understand that class includes
subclass. For example, if they are shown a collection of blue objects constituted
primarily of blue squares, they will say that there are more blue squares than blue
During the Intuitive Phase, children do not understand the distinctions
among a lot, more, and most. My 4 year old grandson insisted that when he became
22, he would be older than his 6 year old cousin would be. His cousin insisted that
this could never be, but then reassured him by saying that since he was younger, she
would die before he would. To the boy, if he is so remarkably old that is, 22 then
he must be the older one. He is judging by a prominent dimension the number 22.
The boy thought that being very old meant being older. His distinctions among old,
older, and oldest were blurred. His 6 year old cousin, although she understood the
distinction between very old and older, blurred the attribute age with the attribute
death, a failure in classification. Both children were in the Intuitive Phase.
Because their understanding of seriation is not systematic, Intuitive Phase
children may fail to coordinate covarying dimensions of attributes. When they look
at juice in a glass, they think that they have more to drink when the juice is poured
from a wide glass into a narrow one. The children focus on the height of the juice
and ignore the change in width. When they look at a model of three mountains,
Intuitive Phase children assert that their current view would be unchanged if they
looked at the model from another position Inhelder & Piaget, 1967 . They will also
say that another child would have the same view as theirs if that child looked at the
model from another position. Measured by this task, Intuitive Phase children have
difficulty seeing things from a point of view that is not their own current point of
Although Intuitive Phase children do not fully understand seriation and
classification, they are beginning to understand both. In the Concrete Operational
Period, children generally become experts at seriation and classification Inhelder &
Piaget, 1969 .
The Concrete Operational Period
At some time during the Concrete Operational Period 8 11 years , children
generally develop a comprehensive understanding of the seriation and classification
of attributes. They arrange objects in terms of any attribute s dimension. For
example, they arrange sticks according to their length. They coordinate different
dimensions in judging attributes for example, height with width when judging
amount. They also become expert at separating objects based on any combination of
attributes. For example, they cull all blue squares from an assortment of objects.
During the Concrete Operational Period, seriation and classification are mastered
for some attributes earlier than for others. For example, children master seriation
based on color before they master seriation based on amount, and they master
amount before they master weight.
When ordering objects along the dimensions of an attribute, Concrete
Operational children start with a plan and carry it through. For example, when
ordering sticks according to size, a child may start with the smallest, find the one
that is the next smallest, and so on. They have a true grasp of the meaning of
seriation. These children also comprehend transitivity that if A is longer than B,
and B is longer than C, then A is longer than C. They learn to coordinate covarying
dimensions into their understanding of attributes. For instance, they realize that if
candies are spread out, or if juice is poured into a differently shaped glass, there is no
change in amount. They may explain that the increased height of the juice is offset
by the change in width, that nothing has been added or taken away, or that the juice
may be returned to its original container. Their assessments are no longer captured
by a current, striking dimension. They coordinate different dimensions or past and
current dimensions into their understanding of an attribute. They also understand
that a change in one s position alters one s view of a model of three mountains. 55
Currently, Perner s 1991 False Belief test is of considerable interest. It has
led to an entire school in psychology Theory of the Mind in which children are
recognized to have some understandings of another person s thinking that had been
thought was not possible before they were in Piaget s Formal Operational Period. In
Perner s test, children watch an adult place some candy in a cupboard as another
child also watches. When that child leaves the room, the adult moves the candy to a
Concrete Operational children classify objects in terms of one or more
attributes, such as shape or shape and color. They cull only and all the blue squares
from an assortment of objects. They learn that class includes subclass, that there are
more blue objects than blue squares. They have a true grasp of the meaning of
classification. They distinguish some from all; more from most; and fast, faster, and
fastest from one another.
The final stage of cognitive development is the Formal Operational Period.
This is the most controversial of Piaget s four periods, as will be evident from what
The Formal Operational Period
Piaget s Formal Operational Period 12 years to adolescence or early
adulthood is characterized by hypothetico deductive reasoning Inhelder & Piaget,
1958 . Hypothetico deductive reasoning involves posing possible explanations of
events, and then mentally combining and separating possible variables in a systematic
way in order to see if the explanations hold. Some authors argue that cognition
continues to develop beyond formal operations, but Piaget, who saw equilibration as
a driving force, regarded formal operations as an end stage, because logical
equilibrium is achieved in formal operations.56
Formal Operational reasoning is tested by how a person approaches
understanding the operation of complex mechanisms. For example, to determine
what governs the oscillation rate of a pendulum calls for Formal Operational
cognition. A person, who uses Formal Operational cognition, systematically tests
each possible variable that could influence the oscillation rate. She modifies the
length of the pendulum, the height at which the pendulum is released, the weight of
different cupboard. The children are then asked where the child who left the room
will search for the candy when she returns.
Children who are younger than 4 say that she will search at the new location.
They fail to distinguish what they know from what she knows. Most 4 year olds say
that she will search in the old location. They are able to distinguish what they know
from what she knows.
In distinguishing what they know from what someone else knows, these
children are using second order cognition a form of knowing about knowing or
thinking about thinking.
In our earlier publications, we erred in our proposal that all types of second
order social cognition were kinds of Formal Operational cognition Malerstein &
Ahern, 1982; Ahern & Malerstein, 1989 . Clearly, 4 year olds use second order
thinking in the False Belief Test.
However, some types of second order cognition are unavailable to older
children and to some adults. As I noted above, 6 year olds are unable to imagine
another child s view in the three mountain model test. Even adults fail tests that
require them to think about strategies that are involved in scientific reasoning, or in
certain tests of social cognition Kuhn, Garcia Mila, Zohar, & Andersen, 1995 .
Many adults do not have observing egos; they are unable to recognize any patterns in
their own thinking as they talk. Some adults in our studies were unable to take a
hypothetical position when the interviewer presented them with a moral dilemma,
such as whether a person should steal a drug to save his wife or a stranger. Those
adults would respond only with what the person would do or with what would
happen. They did not deal with what the person should do or with what should
He proposed that a complex mathematical structure underlies formal operations.
the pendulum, and so on to see which variable, or which possible combination of
variables, if any, changes the oscillation rate.
Initially Piaget assumed that all children, if left to their own devices, would
automatically develop Formal Operational cognition through their interaction with
the objects of the world. Later, Piaget 1972 concluded that the use of such
reasoning may be confined to domains in which a person specializes.57
Strictly speaking, Piaget s study of cognitive development is the study of the
development of scientific thinking. It is not necessarily a study of the development
of cognition in general. Yet it provides the most coherent general framework to date
for the study of the development of cognition a framework for researchers and
theoreticians, such as myself, to add to or to correct.
So far, I have reviewed Piaget s four periods of cognitive development. In
this chapter, I described the different cognitive styles that manifest themselves
during the Preoperational and the Concrete Operational Periods. I also contended
that Stage 6 cognition and Symbolic Phase cognition are not qualitatively different
from each other. And I proposed that a major cognitive reorganization takes place
in the Intuitive Phase, not in the Concrete Operational Period, as Piaget proposed.
In the next chapter, I will explain how complete myelination of the auditory
tracts probably plays a role in the cognitive reorganization that marks a shift from
Symbolic cognition to Intuitive and Concrete Operational cognition. This shift
begins in the Intuitive Phase, but it remains fluid. The child continues to use
Symbolic, Intuitive, or Operational cognition until sometime during the Concrete
Operational Period. This lack of commitment to any one of the three types of
cognition is critical to Ahern s and my theory of character structure formation,
which I will describe in chapter 9.
Others, such as myself, find that many adults do not use even Concrete Operational cognition in all
A SECOND BRAIN CHANGE THAT ASSISTS
REORGANIZATIONS OF COGNITION
As I did in chapter 3, in this chapter, I explain how myelination can play a
role in cognitive reorganization. I propose that complete myelination of the
auditory tracts to the cells of the primary auditory area A1 of the cerebral cortex
would assist the shift in cognition that begins in the Intuitive Phase.
A1 is located in the upper part of the temporal lobe of the cortex of both
cerebral hemispheres.58 Much of A1 is deep in the lateral sulcus, hidden from view.
Like V1, A1 is in a protected site. See Figure 2.
In chapter 3, I explained that complete myelination of the visual and
somatosensory tracts enables cells of the primary visual area V1 and cells of area 1 of
the primary somatosensory area S1 of the cerebral cortex to become reliable gates
entry ports that selectively transmit electrical impulses to downsteam cerebral
cortical circuits. Thus, both V1 and S1 gate cells segregate activation of downstream
visual circuits and somatosensory circuits. The segregation of activation of the
downstream visual circuits is based on edges or lines of light and movement of light
that are cast upon the retina. In like manner, the segregation of activation of the
downstream somatosensory circuits is based on edges and movement of stimulation
of touch receptors in the skin.
Here, I propose that complete myelination of the auditory tracts enables the
cells of area A1 to become reliable gates that segregate activation of downstream
neuronal circuits. Again, the segregation of activation of circuitry is based on the
findings that primary sensory cells that is, the cells of A1 respond to patterns of
stimulation of external receptor organs, in this instance the cochlea the part of the
inner ear that responds to sound.
Assimilation and accommodation are sufficient to account for incremental
cognitive changes. But to account for a reorganization of cognition, not merely
incremental change, I, like Piaget, proposed special mechanisms. However, we
differed on two points. The first is the type of special mechanism that is involved.
The second is what constitutes a reorganization. Piaget invoked special psychological
mechanisms. I invoke maturational mechanisms. In addition, I propose that the
reorganizations that take place do so in earlier stages of cognitive development than
Here, I will discuss equilibration, a concept that is central to Piaget s theory of
cognitive development. Piaget held that equilibration is the primary impetus for
cognitive change. In contrast, the maturational factors that I propose offer the
child s schemes, new tools new ways in which input is organized. This newly
organized input to the schemes supports their reorganization to interact that is, to
assimilate and accommodate more effectively with that child s particular world. I
suggest that better equilibrium results from the effects of the new tool, not that
equilibrium, itself, is a driving force, as Piaget proposed.
In chapter 3, I used A1 to refer to an arbitrary neuron when I illustrated how complete myelination
stabilizes downstream neuronal connections. A1 should not be confused with A1, which designates a
particular area of the cerebral cortex. This area is composed of many, many neurons.
Equilibration and Emotion
Until now, I have mentioned equilibration only in passing. Piaget saw
equilibration as pivotal in all cognitive transformations. He preferred the term
equilibration to equilibrium, because equilibration did not imply that equilibrium is
necessarily achieved Piaget, 1977 . In his model, equilibration is a basic drive: In all
life forms, if there is an ultimate drive, it is toward equilibrium. He saw equilibration
as a tendency toward integration, a need for coherence p. 833 , active at all times
and essential for cognitive transformation. Piaget proposed that equilibration is a
developmental factor that cannot be dissociated from hereditary, environmental, and
socioeducational factors. To Piaget, assimilation accommodation was one kind of
equilibration. Other types were equilibration between subsystems and between the
subsystem and the whole Gallagher & Reid, 1981a .59
Piaget proposed that progress in the construction of more sophisticated
psychological structures or schemes resulted from equilibration when the existing
ones were in a state of disequilibrium that is, out of balance with each other as
they interacted with the world.
I question whether equilibration, as a superordinate drive, is required to
account for cognitive development. I suggest that conscious or unconscious
emotion, which signals to the organism what works for the organism, is sufficient.
The Role of Emotions and Their Relationship to the Brain
I propose that emotion with its close tie to the autonomic nervous system,
which serves the nutritive, vascular, reproductive, and other vital systems signals
the state of the organism, including the state of the schemes. Emotion signals to the
organism that it is or is not functioning satisfactorily for example, that it is in pain,
is too warm, too cold, losing balance, hungry, satiated, sexually aroused, sleepy, tired,
or rested and so on. Emotion also signals the state of the organism to others for
example, the state of the schemes may be signaled by a facial expression of fear or
sadness Ekman, 1984 and, less reliably, by posture.
Much progress has been made in understanding the relationships between
emotion and the brain. Neural substrates of feeling and emotion are distributed
throughout the brain, from front to back, and top to bottom Berridge, 2003a, p.
42 . Nonetheless, emotions are most closely related to particular regions of the
cerebral cortex such as, the cingulate gyrus or the orbitofrontal region Figure 4
and to particular subcortical structures. Berridge, in his extensive review of the
neuroscience of emotions, cited reports that positive affect is impaired by left
cortical damage, and fear by right cortical damage. These reports are variously
interpreted as the damaged cortex releasing either the undamaged cortical
hemisphere or as the damaged cortex releasing its subcortical structures.
Contrary to popular belief, prefrontal lobotomies the surgical lesioning of
the anterior cingulate gyrus or the orbitofrontal region resulted in only modest
cognitive emotional changes. Prefrontal lobotomies were a common form of
treatment for schizophrenics and for severe obsessive compulsives about 50 years
ago a time when there was essentially no effective treatment for such patients.
Without considerable equilibrium with the surround, life could not exist.
Of course, not all that we do is survival related. In addition, many parts of our
genetic repertoire are happenstance once they are included in our genome they
abide, as long as they do not kill us before we reproduce.
Most neurosurgeons were conflicted about doing lobotomies the cutting into
normal brain tissue and were pleased to discontinue doing lobotomies, when
thorazine and reserpine the first effective antipsychotic medications were
It should be recognized, however, that lobotomies did not turn patients into
zombies, as I have heard contended by physicians, who are too young to have ever
seen a post lobotomy patient. The most serious side effect of the surgery was the
possible triggering of epileptic seizures by post surgical scars. Often the
schizophrenic patient s hallucinations and delusions persisted, but the patient was
less troubled by them. One of my colleagues, who had had considerable experience
caring for post lobotomy patients, characterized the effects of a lobotomy by
referring to the severely obsessive old lady who might be terrified that she might pass
gas when she was with others. After a lobotomy, she would just say, Oops.
I am not recommending lobotomy as a treatment, although, in the past, it
offered some relief to anguished, obsessive patients. Here, my purpose is to point
out that significant damage to the frontal cortex results in emotional change that is
significant, but subtle.
In fact, a slow growing, massive tumor of the frontal lobes may go
undetected. When the patient first becomes symptomatic, he may only be a bit less
inhibited than he was, and he may tend to perseverate. A classic sign of frontal lobe
damage may be a kind of silliness. One person, who claimed she never could
remember a joke, became a near constant joke teller, subsequent to her brain tumor.
Emotional changes caused by damage to subcortical nuclei are also not
necessarily obvious. For example, damage to the amygdala an almond shaped body
in the temporal lobe of each cerebral cortex appears to lessen fear in social
situations. To affect emotions, generally, the damage to the amygdala, or another
subcortical structure must be bilateral. Patients, such as SM, who had brain damage
that is isolated to both amygdalas, are rare Adolphs, Tranel, & Damasio, 1998 . SM
was described as tending to approach and engage in physical contact with other
people rather indiscriminately. She and two other patients who had the bilaterally
damaged amygdalas judged pictures of faces as approachable and trustworthy,
which control subjects did not. In their assessments of people from verbal
descriptions, however, the three patients did not differ from control subjects.
Bilateral amygdala damage appeared to interfere with acquisition of negative
assessments of certain faces that other people automatically acquire. This finding is
consistent with that of Baird s and Yurgelum Todd s Beckman, 2004 finding that
the amygdalas of adolescents and adults were hyperactive measured by fMRI when
they were presented with a picture of a face that expressed fear.
Additionally, these findings in humans are similar to those found in amygdala
lesioned monkeys. Amaral 1998 found that amygdala lesioned monkeys, when
introduced to a troupe of monkeys, tended to lack the initial reticence that a
monkey shows when it is not acquainted with that troupe. The amydala lesioned
monkey is sociable, may more quickly become sexually active, and may induce the
other monkeys to be so. Again, this behavior is subtle, not blatant.
Damasio and his colleagues Bechara, et al., 1995 found that SM, the patient
mentioned above, showed increased skin conductance of electricity a measure of
anxiety in response to a loud noise. However, she did not respond with such
increased skin conductance of electricity to a cue a tone or a blue light which
repeatedly preceded the loud noise. She did not become conditioned to either cue.
She could, however, remember the various stimuli. A patient whose amygdala was
intact, but who had a damaged hippocampus, could not remember the various
stimuli, and responded to the cues with increased skin conductance of electricity.
He became conditioned to the cues.
Damasio s findings in SM are basically the same as Ledoux s 1996 findings in
rats. Ledoux found that, after pairing a tone with a shock, rats froze when they heard
the tone. They were conditioned to the tone. After he destroyed both amygdals in
the rats, they could not be conditioned to the tone.60 An amygdala is required for
acquisition and expression of a conditioned fear response a conditioned response
Primarily, what we know about the actions of the drugs of pleasure drugs
that are addictive come from studies of the effects of these drugs on the
mesolimbic dopamine system of rats. The part of the mesolimbic system that
connects the neurons of the ventral tegmental area of the midbrain to the nucleus
accumbens is central to experiencing pleasure. The nucleus accumbens also known as
the ventral striatum is a cluster of cells that is located in the deep subcortical
portion of the cerebral hemispheres. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of the
nucleus accumbens, which is referred to as part of the limbic system, hence the term
mesolimbic dopamine system. This system also has connections to the amygdala.
There is some indication that activation of this mesolimbic dopamine system
is appetitive generally. Because euphoriants amphetamine, opium, alcohol,
marijuana, and so on and appetitive responses to food have been shown to act on
various locations of the mesolimbic dopamine system, the mesolimbic dopamine
system is generally thought to be the pleasure system. And it also was thought that
dopamine level in the brain was pleasuring.
Berridge 1996 and Robinson have, however, found that activation of the
mesolimbic dopamine system can be split from activation of the nucleus accumbens
by using behavioral indicators of pleasure in response to different tastes. For
example, when they used a drug to block activity of the mesolimbic dopamine
system in rats, the rats ceased eating. However, when the investigators gave food to
the rats, the rats showed their characteristic behavioral indicators of pleasure. For
example, in response to a sweet taste rats lick their lips. 61 When the investigators
stimulated the mesolimbic dopamine system electrically, the rats ate, but showed no
behavioral indicators of pleasure. Thus, the mesolimbic system is related to
motivation the wanting of food and the nucleus accumbens is related to
pleasure the liking of food.
In rats, activity of the nucleus accumbens, most particularly its shell, appears
to be central to pleasure generally Berridge, 2003a . Morphine, microinjected into
the shell, increased the behavioral indicators of pleasure to tasty food rewards. Both
nucleus accumbens activity and dopamine release respond to palatable food, to
heroin and amphetamine, and to the chance to engage in sexual activity in both
males and females.
Berridge 1996 reported that Cromwell found that, in rats, lesions of ventral
pallidum, also known as the substantia innominata, which is just deep to the nucleus
accumbens, results in aversive responses to food. It should be noted that the
primary neural outflow of the nucleus accumbens is to the ventral pallidum Berridge,
Even if the rat’s auditory cortex was lesioned bilaterally, Ledoux (1996) could still condition the rats to
the tone. Apparently, the cerebral cortex is not essential to fear conditioning in rats. The auditory part of
the thalamus has a direct connecton to the amygdala. When Ledoux lesioned that part of the thalamus or
lesioned the amygdala, itself, the rats’ ability to be conditioned to the tone was “lost”. Berridge (2003)
cites findings that rats that had their amydalas lesioned could be still be conditioned to a cue that heralds a
shock, provided they were subjected to many more trials. Hence, damage to the amygdalas does not
eliminate fear conditioning. But such damage eliminates rapid, conditioned response to danger.
“Many nonhuman species from primates to rodents…display facial affective reactions to taste with a
degree of similarity to human expression that corresponds closely to their…evolutionary distance from
humans” (Berridge, 2003b).
In human adults, winning a game and winning money in a game resulted in
activation of dopamine systems in the nucleus accumbens and in related structures
Berridge, 2003a . This finding and the findings involving addictive drugs are
consistent with the neurophysiologic studies of positive emotions in rats.
In the newborn human, characteristic emotional expressions indicate whether
food tastes bad for example, bitter or tastes good for example, sweet. These
expressions appear to be part of a prewired, protective system that signals pleasure
and unpleasure to the organism and to the outside world. Compounds that taste
bitter, such as alkaloids, are often dangerous. Compounds that taste sweet are
At about 6 weeks, the infant smiles when she hears a familiar sound. Shortly
thereafter, her smile signals whatever is pleasant. Still later, her face signals the
relationship between what is and what could be with the expression of fear, and
between what was and what appears as if it will never be again with the expression
of sadness Malerstein, 1968 . Finally, emotion signals, at least to the self, many
refinements of feelings shame, jealousy, guilt, pride, and so on.
But evidence suggests that, to begin with, the infant has two closely related,
prewired emotional responses one for pleasure or liking and one for unpleasure or
not liking. The emotional system is very complex, perhaps more complex than the
cognitive system. There is much to be discovered about both. Nevertheless, based
on current knowledge, it is possible that the activation of cells of the nucleus
accumbens is the nidus for the brain s construction of pleasure, and that the
inhibition of activation of cells of the ventral pallidum is the nidus for the brain s
construction of unpleasure, just as activation of the red sensitive cone cells is the
nidus for the brain s construction of redness.
Emotion is the part of a scheme that signals whether or not that scheme is
working to serve the organism to help it to survive and to prosper. In this way,
emotion acts as a guide. It has a go/no go impact on ongoing scheme activity. It
indicates whether the scheme that is active should be allowed to continue, or
whether it should be interrupted or diverted.62 I propose that emotion plays a role
in incremental change, but ordinarily does not in itself account for the major
developmental reorganizations that are addressed here.
As I have mentioned, my positions concerning major cognitive
reorganizations differ from those of Piaget in two ways. I differ as to when the
reorganizations begin. And I differ as to what mechanism probably facilitates the
In chapter 3, I proposed that the change from Stage 3 to Stage 4 cognition in
the Sensorimotor Period marked the beginning of a reorganization of cognition.
Piaget (1981b) wrote about emotion similarly. As I noted earlier, he argued that cognition and emotion
never occur one without the other. He also contended that emotion is not the standard starter of scheme
activity, although at times he contradicted himself, saying that emotion provided the gas for the car and
cognition provided the steering. As is clear from chapter 1, once a scheme has been active, an
approximation of that scheme will tend to be reactivated as long as the brain is physiologically turned on.
Other theorists, including Freud and some of his disciples, proposed that cognition derived from
affective—emotional—energy. That cognition may tame emotion at times can be observed. But, that does
not mean cognition is tamed emotion. My position agrees with Piaget’s usual position—that emotion,
although always in play, is not the source for cognition.
Although operating as a guide or a selector, emotion plays a role in incremental change, it may have
profound effects on thinking and behavior. The tenth child in a sibship of ten lost his next two older
brothers and his father in a plane crash. After that, he seemed to chart his own course. He found reading
interesting and pursued that. He basically never studied, and was never intimidated by his teachers no
matter, what they did. “Nothing could be worse” than what had already happened. He became a comedian.
Here, I will propose that the change from Symbolic Phase cognition to Intuitive
Phase cognition marks the beginning of another reorganization of cognition.
Piaget s Special Mechanisms
I assume that Piaget believed that the major cognitive reorganizations took
place between Stage 5 and Stage 6 of the Sensorimotor Period, and between the
Preoperational Period and the Concrete Operational Period. I make this
assumption, because he invoked special mechanisms to account for the changes at
these points of cognitive change.
Mechanism of Change to Stage 6 Cognition
Recall that in chapter 5, I described how Piaget s Stage 5 daughter imitated
the opening of a box by opening her mouth. She then opened the box wider and
retrieved the object that she wanted from the box. She had made use of an action
symbol. Her opening her mouth symbolized the opening of the box. In Stage 6,
when she was able to open a box without opening her mouth, Piaget proposed that
she had interiorized her action symbol to form a mental image. He proposed that
interiorization of an action symbol for example, the opening of the mouth was
the mechanism that accounted for the change to Stage 6 cognition and particularly
for the formation of mental images. An action symbol is transformed into a mental
symbol a mental image.
Mechanism of Change to Operational Cognition
Piaget 1970 conceived of Intuitive cognition as a half step toward better
equilibration. He proposed that Intuitive cognition used a semilogic one that
lacked reversibility. For example, when Intuitive Phase children see candies that are
spread out to look like more, they fail to consider that the candies could be bunched
up again. To deal with this incomplete equilibrium, Piaget invoked reflective
abstraction as the mechanism that made possible the change from Intuitive to
Concrete Operational cognition. 63
Piaget 1971 distinguished between simple abstraction and reflective
abstraction. Simple abstraction is knowledge abstracted from experience with objects
themselves. For example, by lifting objects the child may abstract from her
experiences that large objects are usually heavier than small objects. Similarly, the
child may use simple abstraction to understand that higher in the glass is usually
more. This kind of abstraction typifies Intuitive Phase cognition.
Reflective abstraction, however, is knowledge abstracted not from the objects
themselves, but from the coordination of the child s actions on the objects. In this
context the term reflective has at least two meanings…the transposition from one
hierarchical level to another level for instance, from the level of action to the level of
Like Piaget, Luria (1976) along with his colleague Vigotsky saw the shift from Preoperational to
Operational cognition as a major reorganization. They proposed that environmental factors explained the
shift in illiterate adults—that the illiterate adults passed from Preoperational, graphic thinking to
Operational, categorical thinking and self-awareness under the impact of literacy and the collective. Like
Cole—Luria’s translator—I question whether a true reorganization of thinking took place in these adults.
Cole theorized that the change that Luria and Vigotsky found resulted from applying a previously available
organization to new content. I would explain the cognitive change differently. I would propose that a
second-order cognitive correction could have accounted for the changes that Luria and Vigotsky found.
See chapter 6, Footnote 53. Second-order cognition is discussed more fully in chapter 9.
operation … and the mental process of reflection Piaget, 1971, pp. 17 18 that is,
thinking about his actions. Piaget reported the example of a child who placed
pebbles in a row and in a circle, and counted. The child began his counting at
different points, and counted in different directions. No matter how he arranged the
pebbles or where he started his counting, he realized that the sum was the same.
The sum was not from the physical properties of the pebbles, but from the actions
that he carried out on them. It was he who united the pebbles into a sum. What
the child learned came from his reflection on his own coordination of his actions
his reflecting on the results of his counting, and on his changing the order in which
In chapter 3, I described how complete myelination of the visual and
somatosensory tracts in the latter part of Stage 3 64 would assist the cognitive shift
from Stage 3 to Stage 4 by segregating downstream schemes in accordance with sets
of edges and movement of visual or touch stimuli. I inferred that, in stages, this
segregation of schemes could then be employed to aid the further differentiation of
object schemes including, as I explained in chapter 5, the differentiation of the
mental image of an object from the perception of that object.
As I pointed out, a set of edges and their movement is the single best
discriminator of different objects. However, edges and their movement, by
themselves, are not adequate to define an object. For example, Piaget s daughter,
when she was in the Symbolic Phase, defined two different objects as the same
object that is, she referred to two different slugs that were 10 yards apart as the
slug. Presumably she did this because the two slugs were similarly shaped: Their
edges were similar. Recall that older children and adults talk about objects that do
not move as distinct objects for example, a mountain. Movement of an edge does
not help one to understand that a mountain is an object. They also refer to objects
whose edges are not visible for example, the earth or not touchable for example,
the moon as distinct objects. Edges and movement are important in the early
discrimination of objects. However, when objects are measured by sophisticated
language, sets of edges and movement of visual or touch stimuli are no longer
sufficient in understanding what is meant by the idea or word object.
I propose that in the Intuitive Phase, children begin to understand what older
children and adults mean when they refer to objects, and that this shift from
Symbolic Phase cognition to Intuitive Phase cognition involves a major cognitive
Not every language necessarily has an equivalent single word for object that
refers equally to the moon, the earth, a mountain, and a toy. So for a child to learn
what older children and adults mean, the child must learn the language of his or her
culture. In this context, it is relevant to consider Nelson and Kessler Shaw s 2000
analysis of language.
Nelson and Kessler Shaw stated that adult language is characterized by four
S s. Language is Social, Shared, and Symbolic, and the symbols are a part of a System
of symbols. They warn us not to assume that the early use of words necessarily
indicates that children are using words as symbols that is, they warn us not to
Perhaps a bit later for the somatosensory tract.
assume that the word is used to represent something in its absence.65 Early in
development, many of the child s words merely refer to an object or event that is
These authors point out that language is social from the outset. Mothers in
our culture bathe their children in words as they interact with them around feeding,
changing, dressing, and playing. In other cultures, in which mothers engage in little
talk with their young children, the child must extract patterns of conversation from
those of adults and children talking together in groups p. 30 .
Nelson and Kessler Shaw note that in the last half of the first year, mother
and child show a new kind of interaction the sharing of attention to objects and
events. The attention of the other is enlisted by pointing and by following each
other s gaze. They respond to the other s emotional reactions and imitate each
other s actions. The authors see this behavior as leading into a sharing of words.
However, these words are used to refer to an object or event that is present. Such
words are not symbols.
It is not always easy to be certain when the child is using words as symbols as
Nelson and Kessler Shaw define the term. To them, the child uses words as symbols
when they represent a state of the world that is not present… with the intention of
communicating that representation to another p. 33 . T he essential function of a
symbol is to provide a means for communicating with another about things and
relations that cannot be pointed to p. 36 . In language, words connect a part of the
world as understood by one person to that of another p. 35 .
Nelson and Kessler Shaw note that even though the child s first words are
usually nouns and verbs, children often do not use them that way. My daughter s first
word was stadt, presumably her version of that. To her, stadt appeared to mean look
at that , I want that , and that particular object.
To Nelson and Kessler Shaw, language is systems of symbols conventionally
used in constructions that convey meaning between people… that goes beyond
talking about objects to talking about ideas…The task is to understand how children
solve the symbol construction problem pp. 43, 44 . Furthermore, in some measure,
language determines thought structure, in that language is a public construction for
communication that is used in private thought.
In natural language, words relate to conventional concepts that are widely used
and understood in a society. Used as symbols, first words may form a private
language that is understood by close relatives. This language is social, shared, and
symbolic, but not cultural. It is not a conventional language. It is not part of an
established System of words. To become a language, the child s initial conceptual
organization of the world needs to be reorganized. The child needs to re parse the
world conceptually in response to learning words…attending to the extensions of
words and their constructions in grammar as used by adults, reflecting the
conventional meaning systems p. 36 .
In learning to engage in conversation, and to construct sentences, the child
amasses bits and pieces of language that are not mapped to the parsing of experience,
but are used as elements of the language itself… T hese bits have importance in
leading the child to a new level of function, its function as a symbolic system that
represents meaning in its own right p. 41 .
Parsing of words into bits and pieces is what complete myelination of the
auditory tracts to A1 does. But before I elaborate on that, I will describe two studies
that shed light on acquisition of bits and pieces of language and their understanding.
Nelson and Kessler Shaw use the term symbol differently than Piaget did. As I noted earlier, Piaget used
symbol to refer to something that resembles the absent object in some way. He referred to words as signs,
because their relationship to what they represent is arbitrary.
Bowerman 2000 stated that it has been widely accepted that as children
learn language, they often are in search for words that express a meaning they already
have that their concepts are already in place when the words are acquired p.
207 for example when they first say allgone, upmama, milk, or nana i.e.
banana . However, she found that children may first use and understand certain
words that express meanings that are specific to a particular language. She studied
children s use of words to designate spatial relationships between objects that is, in
and on in English.
To designate containment, Dutch speakers use a word that corresponds to
the English word for in. Korean speakers use one word to designate containments
that fit loosely, and a different word to designate containments that fit tightly, such
as a book in a fitted case, a ring on a finger, or a Lego on a Lego stack. English
speakers use the word on to designate a ring on a finger, a Lego on a Lego stack, and
a towel on a hook. Dutch speakers use different words to designate a ring on a finger,
a Lego on a Lego stack, and a towel on a rack. Korean speakers use some words that
correspond to the words used by Dutch or English speakers and other words that are
specific to the Korean language. Bowerman reported that children understood and
used language specific words before they understood and used words that would be
universal designations of containment and support that is, in and on.
So it appears that children both find meaning in a language as it is spoken and
seek language to designate the meanings that they already have.
Not surprisingly, Brown, Cazden, and Bellugi Klima 1969 , in their study of
the development of language, found that, at its inception, many components of the
child s language correlated with the mother s speech. More interesting for us here is
their finding that, when the child is first learning to speak, the mother tends to
respond to the meaning the authors refer to it as the truth of her child s speech, not
to the syntax. If the child says, Ball red, Mother tends to agree. She does not tend
to correct the child s expression unless the ball is blue. The mother s tendency helps
her child to sort meaning what the word sounds represent from just sound.
When nuances of sound segregate the word schemes, they are, at the same
time segregating not just parts of sound, but also the meaning of such sounds.
Meaning is part of the definition of communication or language.
What About Myelination?
I propose that complete myelination of the third major sensory tracts the
auditory tracts would assist a cognitive reorganization late in the Symbolic Phase.
The complete myelination of the auditory tracts then would assist the reorganization
of cognition that is first manifest in the Intuitive Phase.
As V1 is to vision and S1 is to touch and proprioception, so A1 is to sound.
A1 the primary auditory area of the cerebral cortex is the entry port into the
cerebral cortex for electrical patterns of stimuli that originate in a part of the ear
that responds to sound that is, the cochlea. Located in the inner ear, the cochlea is
a spiral shaped structure that is lined with hair cells. The hair cells convert different
sounds different frequencies of airwaves into electrical impulses that are
transmitted to relays in the medial geniculate nuclei of the thalamus and then via the
auditory radiations to A1 cells of the cerebral cortex.
Complete myelination of the auditory tracts to A1 the primary auditory area
of the cerebral cortex takes place much later than complete myelination of the
visual and somatosensory tracts to their primary areas of the cortex. The auditory
radiations connect the medial geniculate ganglion to A1. These auditory radiations
are the last segment of the auditory tracts from the cochlea to A1 to be completely
myelinated. This takes place at about 3 to 4 years of age Yakovlev & Lecours,
1967 late in the Symbolic Phase of the Preoperational Period. This complete
myelination of the auditory tracts from the cochlea to A1 offers a newly stable
organization of neuronal circuits, or schemes, that are downstream from area A1
As I explained in chapter 3, only a completely myelinated neural tract
consistently transmits impulses to approximately the same downstream neuronal
circuits when the impulses are repeated. After complete myelination of the tracts
involved, depending on the pattern that activates the cells of a primary sensory area
of the cortex, neuronal circuits or schemes, which are downstream from that area,
are reliably and selectively activated when that pattern is repeated.
Selectivity of V1 cells to edges and movement of light is basically accepted.
However, the selectivity of activation of A1 cells by particular types of sound remains
controversial. Determination of the exact types of sounds that activate A1 cells is
important, but it is not critical for my argument. What is critical is that selectivity
of A1 cells for particular types of sound are stabilized by full myelination.
Nonetheless, I will note two sets of findings that are promising, and that would tend
to be responsive to different auditory objects.
In rats, Zhang, Tan, Schreiner, & Merzenich, 2003 found that the pitch,
which characteristically activates an A1 cell correlates with the rate of change in
pitch, which also activates that cell. A1 cells, which are characteristically activated
by a low pitch tone, are also activated by a sound whose pitch is increasing. And, A1
cells, which are activated by a high pitch tone, are activated by sound whose pitch is
Another finding is that A1 cells of cats respond to novel sounds Ulanovsky,
Las, Farkas, & Nelken, 2004 . For example, if a particular tone is repeated 90 of
the time and another tone 10 of the time, the rare tone will activate A1 cells
more that is, their firing rate will be greater whether the rare tone differs in pitch
Complete myelination of the auditory tracts from the cochlea to area A1
would bring on reliable gating function of A1 cells. If the above findings hold, when
the auditory tracts between the cochlea and A1 are completely myelinated, the
activation of neuronal circuits, or schemes, downstream from area A1 cells are stably
and selectively activated by pitch, rate of direction of change in that pitch, and
novelty of either pitch or loudness. This stable selectivity of downstream circuits is
affected both by the child s hearing other people s voices and by the child s hearing
his or her own voice.
Before age 3 to 4, when myelination of auditory tracts is still incomplete,
the neuronal circuits that are downstream from A1 cells would be in flux. Pitch,
change in that pitch, and novelty of pitch or loudness would activate one neuronal
circuit in one instance. A little later, as additional neuronal axonal fibers that
constitute the auditory tracts become completely myelinated, the same pitch
parameters bits of sound activate a different neuronal circuit. When the auditory
tracts to the cells of A1 are completely myelinated, the A1 cells become reliable gates.
Then, whenever the same sequences of these bits of sound are repeated, the impulses
that correspond to these sounds will, in effect, pass through A1 gate cells to activate
approximately the same downstream neuronal circuits in the cerebral cortex.
This new, stable organization of neuronal circuits, or schemes, which occurs
just before the onset of the Intuitive Phase, would assist the child s understanding of
seriation and classification in the Concrete Operational period. It should help the
child to think in nuances of words and word relationships.
Age 3 to 4, when complete myelination to A1 cells takes place, is late in the
Symbolic Phase, just before the onset of the Intuitive Phase. It is true that Intuitive
Phase children are not sophisticated at seriating or classifying attributes. They have,
however, begun to understand that an attribute such as blueness or length comes in
degrees have begun to understand that objects may be ordered in terms of how
blue they are or how long they are. They have begun to understand seriation. They
have also begun to understand that a difference in an attribute, such as the difference
between blue and green or the difference between long and short, may be used to
distinguish one group of objects from another. They have begun to understand
As I mentioned earlier, Intuitive Phase children falter when they are asked to
order a large series of objects, and they do not understand transitivity, which is part
of a complete understanding of seriation. They falter when culling one type of object
from a large assortment of objects, and they do not understand the relationship of
subclass to class, which is part of a complete understanding of classification.
Nonetheless, they have begun to understand both seriation and classification.
At age 3 to 4, the already existing auditory portions of the child s schemes
can begin to be reliably segregated in terms of nuances that is, bits and pieces as
the speaker says, Jane is tall, Mary is taller, and Joe is tallest, or Jane is fast, Mary is
faster, and Joe is fastest. In the Intuitive Phase, the child tries to use and understand
more and most; red, redder, and reddest; lots and all; a and the; similar and same. Reliable
conduction of the nuances of sounds, brought on by complete myelination of the
auditory tracts, should assist refinements of understanding that are required by such
communication. The rich pre existing 3 to 4 years of schemes may now be
redefined, or at least refined re parsed, in Nelson s and Kessler Shaw s terms by
such nuances of sound that the community uses in its language.
All of this depends on the child s exposure to a language and culture that
emphasizes seriation and classification of attributes. It is difficult to believe that a
child who lacks such exposure would develop an understanding of the distinctions
that are involved in fully understanding attributes. Adults and older children model
such distinctions in their speech. Sometimes, they deliberately teach these
distinctions to the child. Most often, the child picks up the distinctions
automatically presumably from the models and from her interactions with the
The timing of complete myelination of the neural tracts from the cochlea to
area A1 cells is opportune. As the child is about to enter the Intuitive Phase, the
complete myelination of these tracts provides reliable downstream cerebral circuit
activation that is segregated, based on nuances of sound. This is a time when
children differentiate object schemes from attribute schemes, begin to understand
distinctions between attributes, and begin to understand that attributes may be
graded. Precise hearing of sounds in specific contexts is a necessary, if not sufficient,
requirement for the child to distinguish the language that begins to deal with such
aspects of attributes a language that distinguishes a and the, similar and same, or fast,
faster, and fastest.
As the bits and pieces are repeated, complete myelination of the auditory
tracts to area A1 cells should reliably deliver each bit to what are essentially its own
cortical neuronal circuits circuits that are downstream from A1. The repeat sound
of the word a should activate basically the same circuits each time, and the repeat
sound of the word the should activate its own circuits. Each time the words are
heard, the circuits that are activated should be essentially the same for the same
words, and the circuits that are activated should be essentially different for different
words. The same applies to the words he or she. The bit sound of ed in learned, in
waited, in asked, and even in goed, or standed should activate the same basic neuronal
circuit, or scheme, and the sound of s in toys, in books, in rocks, and in foots should
activate its own basic neuronal circuits or scheme. After complete myelination to
A1, each of these bits and pieces, which has its own meaning for example, gender,
tense, or plurality in the systems of words in adult language, should have its own
reasonably consistent circuits. And all of these circuits should be somewhat distinct
from one another.
These sets of neuronal circuits are segregated in terms of bits bits that are
imposed by language and culture, and which form wholes. These aggregates of bits
that indicate dimension for example, er in faster and those that indicate kind
for example, he or she can be used to better connect a part of the world as
understood by one person to that of another Nelson & Kessler Shaw, 2000, p. 35 .
That is, they enable the child to communicate more successfully. This conventional
sorting works for the child in his or her social world and in turn may provide a tool
for self exploration a way for the child to understand his or her own meanings.
The mechanism that I have described helps explain how a child picks up the
parts of a language that are regular. English is particularly irregular. Nonetheless,
after a while, most children trade feet for foots, went for goed and stood for standed, but
some do not. They still say gooder or tooken, and may never distinguish know from
think. Sometimes the parsing of sounds is counterproductive. For example, the
sounds my, el, and nay as in nation do not help us to understand the meaning of
myelination, but myelin and tion do. So we must continue to learn assimilate and
accommodate to the bits and pieces that work for us in our land, whether our land
is medicine or auto repair, and whether it is France or America.
Complete myelination to A1 not only would help the child to master the
language of his or her culture. But it would also help to shift conscious cognition to
thinking in words and word organizations rather than thinking in visual, touch, or
If the language of your culture does not have the right words, does that impair
your thinking? There is some evidence that it may.
Gordon s 2004 studies of the Piranha confirm that language is critical to
certain types of thinking or understandings particularly, certain Concrete
Operational understandings. The Piranha a tribe of about 200 who live in small
villages along the Amazon have their own language. In their language, He and they
are the same word. The Piranha have no word for number, more, several, all, or each.
They have a word for one, for two, and for many as well as for the same. Their word for
one also means a small quantity.66
On various tasks, Gordon found that they did not comprehend numbers
much above two or three. Generally, when they were asked to match what he
presented for example, sticks, nuts, or line drawings they could not do so much
beyond 2 or 3 items. They responded similarly on a task that involved subtraction
and memory. He placed nuts in a can as they watched, and then asked them if the
can was empty each time as he removed a nut from the can. Also as the Piranha
watched, he put candies in a box that had pictures of a number of fishes that
corresponded to the number of candies that were put in the box. He passed the box
behind his back and then presented it along with a box that had one more picture of
a fish on it or one less picture of fish on it. At about 50 of the time, for as little as
three or four correspondences of fish to candies, they selected the box that
contained the candy. It should be noted that they prized the candies and, as part of
the procedure, would get the candies. Tests that involved either memory or that
involved spacial transposition showed similar results. The Piranha did poorly on
tasks that depended on understanding numbers greater than three.
Interestingly, Gordon thought that if he arranged 8 or 10 objects into small
groups that the Piranha would have increased difficulty in matching the
arrangement. In fact, they performed well in that matching task. Apparently in that
They resemble a Preoperational child. Additionally, efforts to teach a number system to the children
succeeded, but failed with adults (Holden, 2004).
task, they could match two or three at a time. Finally, it is known that persons are
able to make reasonably good estimates of large amounts of single objects such as a
pile of crushed nuts estimates that do not employ counting. The Piranha were
poor at such estimations, but their estimates were not random. Gross judgment of
amount was partially intact.
Thinking in words works better for most situations in our world. Thinking in
words does not abolish thinking in visual, touch, or postural images. But thinking in
words or fragments of words tends to dominate thinking in images, for various
reasons. Although a single gesture or picture may sometimes be worth a thousand
words, thinking in words is generally more efficient and precise. Even American Sign
Language is predominantly a form of thinking in words, although the medium is
gestures and vision.67
Complete Myelination of the Major Sensory Tracts to the Cerebral Cortex
I have proposed that complete myelination of three sensory tracts the
visual, the somatosensory, and the auditory probably play a role in basic cognitive
shifts. Electrical impulses conducted by each of these three tracts activate synaptic
relays of their own specific nuclei in the thalamus68 that then transmit electrical
impulses to the cells of their own primary sensory areas their principal entry points
into the cerebral cortex. The thalamus is a complex way station between these
specific sensory tracts and the cerebral cortex.
In addition to the specific sensory tracts for vision, touch, and hearing,
nonspecific tracts transmit impulses from the thalamus to the cerebral cortex and
from the cerebral cortex to the thalamus. The nonspecific thalamocortical tracts are
completely myelinated at about age 7 Yakovlev & Lecours, 1967 , just before the
Concrete Operational Period. Complete myelination of these nonspecific tracts
stabilizes the relationship between the thalamus and the cerebral cortex. After that,
all of the input routes through the thalamus to the cerebral cortex are basically set.
After age 7, the cerebral cortex, itself, still retains considerable plasticity. For
years to come, myelination is incomplete for many tracts between and within
different areas of the cortex. For this reason alone, much change of the neuronal
circuitry of the cerebral cortex takes place after age 7. However, once the
nonspecific thalamocortical tracts are completely myelinated, the opportunity for
the three major sensory tracts to find an alternate route through the thalamus to the
cortex is basically cut off.
The complete myelination of the nonspecific thalamocortical tracts
essentially closes out a final avenue for change, as well as for feedback from the
cortex. The nonspecific thalamocortical tracts can no longer be co opted by the
visual, touch, or auditory peripheral sense systems. Some of the mechanisms that the
child has available to build certain ideas about physical and social objects and their
attributes are basically stable. What remains is use of, or correction for, input to
schemes that are reliably segregated by edges and movement of activation of the
Using a series of image schemes works more effectively when we think about finding something we have
lost, about taking a complicated path, about using a map, about learning to make a turn when skiing, or
about assembling a chair. We can, however, use organizations of words to think about these actions as well.
Some people tend to do this, although visualizing or feeling kinesthetically how one is going to do such
tasks is probably more efficient.
As I noted in chapter 4, Footnote 34, the thalamus is situated in the center of the brain, surrounded by the
cerebral hemispheres, the outer surface of which is the cerebral cortex. The thalamus is composed of a
number of discrete nuclei that coordinate activity between various parts of the central nervous system.
three sensory systems, as the child or more precisely, his cognitive emotional
organizations continues to interact with the world.
After this myelination is complete, overall organization of sensory schemes
that has worked for that child in that child s setting will persist. The kind of
organization will differ, however, based on what has worked for that child in his
particular early setting.
It is not be surprising that the Roman Catholic Church wants the child by age
7; that children who become blind before 7 experience no visual imagery, awake or
dreaming Blank, 1958 ; and that cerebral hemispherectomy after about 7 is
My hypothesis that complete myelination of the three specific
thalamocortical sensory tracts assists and possibly induces cognitive reorganizations
is an example of how timing of a type of maturation of the brain probably interacts
with cognition. It explains how maturation of the nervous system could influence
Myelination is particularly suited to play such a role, especially in view of
Merzenich s 1998 finding that the first stimuli to arrive in a brain area stake a claim,
and that maintenance of that claim is a the result of competition with stimuli from
neighboring neurons. See chapter 1, Footnote 13.70
I have proposed how complete myelination of the visual, somatosensory, and
auditory tracts could be expected to influence two major cognitive reorganizations
how maturation of the brain would help to reorganize cognitive development. My
proposal is an attempt to integrate four domains of knowledge. These are, first,
what we know about the timing of full myelination of these tracts; second, what we
know about the operation of the cells of the primary sensory areas of the cortex;
third, what we know about the development of cognitive structures as described by
Piaget; and fourth, what we have recently learned about the development of
language. My proposal does not preclude the influence of other factors.
Based on current knowledge, my proposal is reasonable. Reasonable
proposals are not necessarily correct. As we learn more about neural maturation,
about the neurophysiology of sensory processing, about cognitive restructuring, and
about the development of language, it will be necessary to modify my proposal.
Studies of sign language raise a question about the significance of myelination
of the tracts from the cochlea to the auditory area of the brain in development of
language. Clearly in congenitally deaf children, complete myelination of the auditory
tract has little relevance to acquisition of sign language.
As I noted in chapter 1, hemispherectomy—the removal of an entire cerebral hemisphere—is sometimes
done to control intractable epilepsy. If the surgery is done early enough in development, it results in very
little impairment. Speech and motor control are unaffected. The affected side of the body—the side that is
opposite to the missing hemisphere—may be a bit smaller than the unaffected side of the body.
Merzenich also, using differential rewards, trained a monkey to alternate which finger it used to respond
to a stimulus. He then trained the monkey to alternate its finger responses faster and faster. At a certain
point, the monkey ceased using its fingers separately and used its whole hand like a mitten. That is, at this
point, the monkey failed to distinguish among its fingers. Merzenich found that the brain area activations
that ordinarily corresponded to the individual fingers had become undifferentiated. So speed of
transmission—which myelination enhances—is of special importance in the dedication of brain areas and
brain function. Complete myelination under ordinary circumstances closes the door to early competing
neurons in the vicinity that conduct stimuli from adjacent fingers. Yet the door may be forced open by a
maneuver such as the one that Merzenich performed.
It is argued that sign languages are complete languages. Sign languages are
composed of bits that correspond to what may be understood as the syllabic,
morphological, and syntactic aspects of spoken language Hickock, Bellugi, & Klima,
2001 . Additionally, the acquisition of a sign language roughly parallels the
acquisition of a spoken language that is, syllabic babbling, first words, and two
word combinations, each, appear at about the same age, whether the child s native
language is signed or spoken Petitto et al., 2000 . And in deaf signers, Hickock,
Bellugi, and Klima 2001 found that brain damage of areas of the left cerebral
hemisphere resulted in expressive and sensory aphasias of sign language, much like
aphasias found in hearing patients with corresponding lesions in the left hemisphere.
In deaf subjects, however, viewing someone sign words activates the auditory areas
bilaterally not just the left auditory area Petitto et al., 2000 .
Thus far, the investigations of sign language have not shown that the auditory
area is somehow preordained for processing language that the area is a preordained
symbol processing module. That it becomes so, is evidenced by studies of adult
aphasics. These studies do not show that the auditory area, particularly the left
auditory area, is absolutely designed to become so. Finding that in congenitally deaf
adults the volume of the left primary auditory cortex is larger than right comparable
region, as is true for hearing adults, suggests that left lateralization of auditory
processing of the cerebral cortex has a genetic component Penhune et al., 2003 .
However, it remains possible that language is primarily a natural consequence of the
fact that we have a large amount of association cortex in our brains and that we
interact with a culture that evolved over time.
This would be consistent with the finding that chimps can be taught sign
language at about the level of a 3 year old child, and that monkeys cannot be taught
sign language. Chimps have less association cortex than we do, and monkeys have
even less. It also is consistent with the finding that left hemispherectomy in the
young child does not compromise language development. Assimilation and
accommodation by schemes with sufficient potential crossmodal, associative,
connections could account for the similar timing of appearance of babbling, of first
words, and of two word combinations, regardless of whether the child s culture uses
sound and speech or gesture and sight to communicate. Nonetheless, as more is
known about the relationships between development of language and the brain,
investigators will discover what role brain morphology plays in language function s
usual location in the left auditory area.
Complete myelination of the auditory tracts to the auditory area, also, does
not explain Head s and Luria s finding that adults with lesions to the left parieto
occipital area manifest semantic aphasia Goldberg, 1999 . Semantic aphasia is
characterized by disruption of comprehension and expression of spatial and temporal
relational constructions. Such adults have difficulty dealing with below versus above,
to the right of versus to the left of, before versus after, smaller versus larger, and/or
taller versus shorter. These are all bits and pieces that typify Concrete Operational
cognition. This lesion study does not contradict my thesis that complete
myelination of the tracts to A1 assists understanding of smaller and larger, and so on.
The lesion study shows that part of the cerebral cortex that is downstream from A1
plays a role in these understandings, and that such understandings are space
committed in an adult.
One thing appears certain. Without complete myelination of the three
sensory tracts to their entry ports V1, S1, and A1 into the cerebral cortex, any
functions downstream from the entry ports whether they involve subsequent
maturation or learning operate with less organized input. At this point in our
understanding of brain mind interaction, complete myelination of the three sensory
tracts appears to assist two reorganizations of cognitive development.
Chapter 9, which centers on the formation of character structure, is a
continuation of chapters 6 and 7. My theory of the formation of character structure
fits the hypothesis that, ordinarily, complete myelination of the auditory tract would
assist the cognitive reorganization that begins in the Intuitive Phase and remains
unsettled until sometime in the Concrete Operational Period.
However, before proceeding to chapter 9, in chapter 8 I will return to some
tag ends of subjects that I dealt with in earlier chapters. These involve conscious and
unconscious processing, memory storage and retrieval, and potential objections to
my theory of the formation of consciousness.
CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS COGNITION
In this chapter, I discuss the relationship between conscious and unconscious
cognition; how much conscious control we have over our behavior; and Piaget s
concept that, for an idea to be conscious, it must tend not to contradict the person s
dominant understanding. What we are conscious of at any moment is very limited.
But what we access unconsciously is probably vast. A constructivist view helps
clarify how and where this vast information is stored and how we gain access to it.
Finally, I examine problems that haunt my thesis, outlined in chapter 4, that the
sense of being conscious is constructed from the facilitation of cortical circuitry
activity by the RAS.
Most Cognition Is Unconscious
Piaget 1973, 1976 , Freud, and many other students of psychology, before and
after them, concluded that most cognition is unconscious. For example, we are
seldom conscious of the processes involved when we come up with the right idea, or
when we use the right words in the right order. Perhaps more interestingly, we are
seldom conscious of the processes involved when we use the wrong words the so
called Freudian slips.
The unconscious is not a container full of intact ideas and emotions, as has
sometimes been thought. Rather the unconscious consists of organized schemes
that are processed outside of consciousness. These unconscious schemes and the
ways in which they are organized may be revealed in altered states of consciousness,
such as dreams or intoxicated states, and by repetitive behaviors, including
transference phenomena behaving toward a person such as a psychotherapist as if
that person were someone from one s past. Unconscious schemes and the ways in
which they are organized may be revealed by themes that underlie what one says in
unguarded discourse. Contiguous ideas that at first appear to be inconsistent will
generally reveal consistency, once we know more about their missing that is, their
unconscious organizations and content. Under ordinary circumstances, we have
little or no conscious access to the complex organizations of schemes, or to the
diversity of their content, even though they underlie what we think, say, and do.
Libet s Work
Libet 1985a showed how constrained our conscious control of voluntary
action appears to be. Subjects were asked to remember the position of a dot on a
fast moving clock whenever they decided to flex a finger. Subjects chose when to flex
the finger: The behavior, although limited, was under voluntary control. The
movement of the finger, the position of the dot, and the subject s
electroencephlogram EEG were recorded with great precision.
In 1964, Walter found that when a person intends to make a movement, the
movement is preceded by a negative electrical shift in his EEG recording Cooper,
1987 . This shift in the EEG is now called a readiness electrical potential RP .
Libet found that each subject s RP began about half a second before she was
conscious of her intention to flex her finger, as measured by her report of the
position of the dot. After the subject became conscious of her intention to flex her
finger, an additional fifth to a fourth of a second elapsed before she did so.71 Thus,
there was half a second between the onset of unconscious processing measured by
the RP and consciousness of intention. A subject then had only a fifth of a second
of consciousness of intention during which she could choose to act.72 On occasion,
an RP was recorded, but the subject did not move her finger. When queried later,
she reported that she had intended to act, but had changed her mind.
In itself, flexing a finger is a very limited act. It is powerful, however, if we
consider our ordinary flow of thought and intentions, especially any selection from
our unconscious store of possibilities. There may be a concatenation of many,
perhaps even overlapping, fifths of seconds in which to veto, divert, or carry through
our voluntary acts.
Libet 1985b also showed that we fool ourselves into thinking that our
consciousness of a sensation is instantaneous. Recording directly from of the
cerebral cortex of patients undergoing brain surgery, he found that a single light
touch of the skin instantaneously in 10 to 20 thousandths of a second evoked an
electrical response in the somatosensory area S1 of the cerebral cortex. However,
the patient was not conscious of being touched. In order for the patient to be
conscious of the touch stimulus, the stimulus had to be intense enough to result in a
half second of activation of the cortex.
Libet found that direct stimulation either of S1 of the cerebral cortex or of
the medial lemniscus by an electrical current must also last for a half second before
the person feels a tingling sensation in the skin. The medial lemniscus is a neural
tract that feeds directly that is, with virtually no delay into S1. Direct stimulation
of the medial lemniscus by the electrical current resulted in an instantaneous evoked
electrical response at S1, much as touch of the skin does. However, direct electrical
activation of S1 the cerebral cortex itself resulted in no evoked response.
Libet stimulated the skin and S1 at different times while the patient reported
which stimulus was felt first.73 He varied the order of the stimuli and the time
intervals between them.
When Libet stimulated the skin as late as a fifth of a second after he
stimulated S1, the patient reported that she felt the touch before she felt the
tingling. When Libet stimulated the skin half a second after he stimulated S1, the
patient reported that she felt the touch and the tingling at the same time. When
Libet stimulated the skin more than a half second after he stimulated S1, the patient
reported that she felt the tingling first.
A person s consciousness of touch appears to be tied to the evoked response
in S1, which is instantaneous, not to the half second of S1 activation that precedes
consciousness of touch. Libet concluded that the consciousness of being touched is
referred back in time to the moment when the evoked response occurred.
Lau et al. (2004) replicated Libet’s findings using functional magnetic resonance imaging, which can
locate brain activation more precisely than an EEG can. They found that conscious intention to move a
finger was preceded by activation of three small areas of the cerebral cortex—the pre-supplementary motor
area, the right dorsal prefrontal area, and the left intraparietal sulcus.
In an emergency or in a highly practiced event, such as starting a 50-yard dash, people respond faster.
For example, the time between hearing the gun go off and leaving the starting blocks is much shorter than
the time between deciding to move a finger and moving that finger. Presumably the conscious decision-
making process is bypassed.
The patient could distinguish the touch of the skin from the tingling sensation that resulted from
electrical stimulation of S1 or the medial lemniscus. However, to make the patient’s reporting easier, touch
of the skin and electrical stimulation of S1 were done on the same side of the body. Because the sensory
area of one hemisphere of the cerebral cortex, in this case S1, is activated by stimuli from the other side of
the body, touch of the skin and stimulation of S1 on the same side, resulted in sensations that were felt in
different arms. This allowed the patient to report whether she felt the stimulus on the right or on the left.
Under ordinary circumstances, unconscious processes are at work before we
are aware of our intention to act voluntarily and before we are able to experience a
sensory stimulus. In these two instances, the mechanics of our becoming
conscious what must be done unconsciously before we become conscious of an
intention or of a sensation are unknown. It is strange perhaps, but in some
seemingly ordinary circumstances our unconscious processes are running things for a
half second before we know what is going on inside and before we know what is
going on outside.
Piaget tended not to think that the boundaries between conscious and
unconscious cognitive processing are entirely distinct. In addition, he contended
that repression and defensive distortions mechanisms that keep parts of cognition
unconscious are not restricted to emotion laden cognition, as was central to
Freud s theory Piaget, 1976 . Piaget found that repression and defensive distortions
operated even when the child was dealing with cognition that had little emotional
Piaget 1976 proposed that for unconscious cognition to become conscious,
the cognition must ordinarily be consistent with the person s dominant
understandings.74 He proposed that when children s perceptions were not consistent
with their dominant understanding of physical cognition, they repressed or distorted
Piaget based his proposal on studies of children s explanation of how they
behaved and of how the object behaved as they learned a skill. In one such study, 4
year olds learned to use a sling to throw a ball at a target. The children could often
hit the target long before they were aware of how they behaved or how the ball
behaved. When Piaget asked them what they did, the children explained that they
had released the ball directly in front of them. Their explanation was the same one
that a child would have given if he had released the ball from his hand. The
explanation was consistent with the child s dominant understanding of how he threw
a ball to hit a target. At the same age, still failing to notice the difference between
using a sling and throwing, a child might explain that he failed to hit the target
because he did not throw hard enough or soft enough. He distorted his behavior to
conform to his dominant understanding. A child who was a few months older and
who had a beginning awareness of where he released the ball explained that the ball
took a curved course to hit the target. He distorted his perception of how the ball
behaved. At this age, a child might even say that he released the ball behind him a
major distortion of his behavior: The ball would have to pass through him. At the
point that a child first recognized that he released the ball at nine o clock at the
tangent of the circle he might return to an earlier incorrect explanation,
suppressing or, as Piaget wrote, repressing the correct explanation.
Piaget proposal that cognition may be subject to distortion or repression,
whenever cognition is inconsistent with a person s dominant ideas, broadened
Freud s position. Freud s position was that distortion and repression of unconscious
content took place when such content would invoke painful emotions were it to
From Piaget s study of children s learning to use a sling to throw a ball, it is
clear that unconscious that is, automatic or mechanical function may precede
His proposal is consistent with the fact that, in the course of development, primitive organizations are
organized out of conscious understanding. This occurs, for example, when Stage-4 ordered cognition—
such as striking before grasping—replaces the mutual assimilation-accommodation of Stage-3 cognition—
such as striking while watching and watching while striking.
conscious understanding. Learning does not always happen the other way around, as
when we learn to drive a car. After sufficient conscious, step by step practice, our
driving becomes automatic. The steps that are involved become an unconscious
process. Once this state is achieved, thinking about what we are doing becoming
conscious of the steps involved may interfere with our performance. Later, if we
seldom drive, our driving may no longer be automatic, and we must become
conscious of some of the steps.
In any case, there is interplay between conscious cognition and unconscious
cognition and learning. On the one hand, we may recognize a friend from the back
of his head, although we never were conscious of having known what the back of his
head looked like. On the other hand, we were certainly conscious of what we were
doing when we painstakingly learned to drive a car. Yet once having learned, we may
drive for the rest of our lives with little awareness of how we do it.
Is Consciousness Distinct From the Waking State?
As I proposed in chapter 4, if consciousness is constructed from the waking
state the facilitation of the cortical circuitry activation by activity of the RAS is
consciousness ever completely distinct from the waking state? Except when we are
dreaming, we are never conscious without being awake. However, during certain
epileptic seizures the person loses consciousness without being asleep.75
Petit mal seizures are characterized by loss of consciousness while awake.
They are most common in children. During a petit mal seizure, the child stops
talking, may blink a bit, and is unresponsive for half a minute or so. When the child
comes to, he has no memory of the episode. Repetitive, generalized EEG spike and
wave patterns coincide with petit mal seizures. Petit mal seizures originate in the
Psychomotor seizures are characterized by loss or diminution of
consciousness while awake. During a psychomotor seizure the person is
nonresponsive and exhibits automatic, often repetitive, coordinated behavior. The
seizure may last for minutes. When the person regains consciousness, he has no
memory of the episode. During a seizure, one of my patients moved a chair back and
forth. Another patient ran during his seizures. One day, when he was not being
closely watched, he ran into a lake and drowned. During a psychomotor seizure, the
person s EEG shows a focus of repetitive, high voltage spikes in the temporal lobe of
the cerebral cortex. Sometimes, the spiking becomes generalized and culminates in a
grand mal seizure.
A grand mal seizure that is, a tonic clonic seizure is what the general
public thinks of as an epileptic seizure. These seizures begin with unconsciousness,
followed by a generalized contraction of the muscles the tonic phase. The tonic
phase lasts about half a minute and is followed by 1 or 2 minutes of generalized
jerking of the muscles the clonic phase. After a seizure, the person usually sleeps.
During a grand mal seizure the person s EEG shows repetitive, high voltage spikes
throughout both cerebral hemispheres. The trigger of the seizure an irritable
focus may be in the thalamus, as in a petit mal seizure, or it may be elsewhere in
the brain. Prior to the seizure, the person may experience an aura an odd sensation.
The nature of the aura depends on the location of the trigger.
Sometimes, spiking from an irritable focus in the motor cortex of the brain
triggers repetitive movement of a limb. The person does not lose consciousness but
See Westbrook (2000) for a current typology of epilepsy and a more extended account of what is known
has no conscious control over this movement. Sometimes the spiking spreads, and a
grand mal seizure follows.
It is reasonable to think of repetitive, relatively regular, high voltage electrical
activation of the brain as the enemy of consciousness that is, as the enemy of
activation by the RAS. The RAS appears to provide a more gentle facilitation of
activation of neuronal circuitry of the cerebral cortex during the awake state. During
grand mal seizures, the generalized electrical spikes apparently swamp ordinary
cerebral cortical function. In petit mal seizures, repetitive and generalized high
voltage electrical spikes and waves apparently interfere with the ordinary
transmission of electrical impulses between cortical neuronal circuits and within
these circuits. In psychomotor seizures, the repetitive, high voltage electrical spikes
trigger the behavior that characterizes these seizures. Although the psychomotor
seizure spiking is somewhat localized, it must involve circuitry that is critical to
consciousness or circuitry that is widespread enough to interfere with the ordinary
transmission of electrical impulses between cortical neuronal circuits and within
To think of repetitive, relatively regular, high voltage electrical activation of
the brain as the enemy of consciousness is consistent with a phenomenon observed
during the use of electroconvulsive treatment ECT . ECT is used primarily to treat
certain types of depression. In ECT, alternating electrical current is passed through
the cerebral cortex in order to trigger a grand mal seizure. When the amount of
electricity that is, the voltage and the duration is insufficient, the patient may
become unconscious, but the patient will not have a grand mal seizure. Presumably,
the electrical activation is sufficient to interfere with the ordinary transmission of
electrical impulses between cortical neuronal circuits and within these circuits.
Where are our Memories, Where are our Schemes, and How do we Find
If most of cognitive content is unconscious, it is relevant to ask where the
content is stored and how do we gain access to it. On being asked what I did at
seven o clock this morning, I am obliged to deduce the answer, and it is unlikely that
it was noted on a record always kept up to date in my unconscious Piaget, 1962, p.
187 . Piaget was saying that he had to construct his memory of what he did at seven
Whenever a memory is retrieved, I propose that it may be reconstructed
from different components each time. Reasoning or problem solving may be seen as
finding useful information. We perceive what we know and have felt. So where and
how memories are stored and retrieved is central to all forms of cognition.
Recording a Memory
Patients suffering from Korsakoff s syndrome are unable to remember
anything new except for a minute or two, although, after they are in the hospital for
an extended period, they remember how to find their way to the bathroom or to the
dining hall.76 When asked to respond to questions that call for information that they
do not remember, they may confabulate that is, they offer an answer that is
Remembering something for a few seconds is currently referred to as working memory. Memory for new
procedures—for example, finding one’s way around the hospital—is not as impaired as memory for new
facts—for example, learning a new address—or for new episodes—remembering having met a new
physician. In recent years, much research has focused on these different kinds of memory. For a review of
such research, see Squire and Schacter (2002).
reasonable, but inaccurate. When I did research on such patients, they did not
remember having met me, even after I had encountered them many times. When I
asked them to remember a three digit address for example, 382 Main Street they
could repeat it immediately, but forgot it after 2 to 3 minutes and might not
remember that they had been asked to remember anything. Their ability to carry on
a conversation, their level of consciousness, and their intelligence were normal
Malerstein & Belden, 1968 . They had no particular difficulty in recognizing an old
friend or in remembering their past.
Korsakoff s syndrome is caused by vitamin B 1 deficiency. Korsakoff s
syndrome usually occurs in alcoholics, because alcohol places a demand on the body
for B 1, and because many alcoholics do not eat well. Ordinarily, after a month to a
year of adequate nutrition and no alcohol, 90 of these patients recover completely.
The other 10 do not improve. One who did not improve was a Boston taxi driver
Talland, 1965 . When he resumed driving his taxi, he took his wife with him. He
could find his way around the old part of Boston, but not around the new part.
There is general agreement that patients who have Korsakoff s syndrome have
no cerebral cortical damage to account for their profound memory impairment. It is
also generally agreed that memories are recorded primarily in the cerebral cortex. It
follows that Korsakoff s syndrome provides an unusual opportunity for studying
Investigators disagree on which damaged subcortical structure causes
Korsakoff s syndrome Horel, 1978; MacLean, 1990 . Malamud and Skinner 1956
found that in over 95 of their Korsakoff s cases, three small brain structures were
damaged: the mammillary bodies, the periaqueductal grey, and the periventricular
grey. The mammillary bodies small bilateral structures located at the base of the
brain are part of Papez circuit. This circuit consists of the mammillary body and a
series of neural tracts that connect to several other subcortical structures and then
back to the mammillary body. The structures of the circuit have widespread
connections to other parts of the brain, including the cerebral cortex and parts of the
brain related to emotions and to the autonomic system.
I suggested in chapter 1 that storage of information that is, memories and
what to do with memories is widespread and content addressable. Barbizet 1970
theorized that, in Korsakoff s syndrome, interruption of Papez circuit which is a
potential reverberating circuit that could repeatedly distribute a pattern of stimuli
throughout the brain impairs rehearsal of new information. To remember new
information, it is useful to rehearse it and to connect it to other old information.
Barbizet s proposal is consonant with the theory of remembering presented here.77
Now, I incline toward Barbizet’s proposal. Earlier, like Solms and Turnbull (2001), I proposed that an
inability to sort memories accounted for both the memory defect and the confabulation in Korsakoff’s
syndrome (Malerstein & Belden, 1968; Malerstein, 1969). Because confabulation is found in a number of
conditions, including conditions that involve damage to various areas of the brain (Schacter & Scarry,
2000), confabulation probably has no one-to-one relationship to a single area.
Nonetheless, Schacter, Verfaellie, and Koustaal (2002) found that Korsakoff’s patients and midtemporal-
damaged patients responded with an incorrect theme word more often than controls when asked which
words were included in a list of words. For example, when presented with a list of words such as
“candy,” “sugar,” “taste,” “sour,” “good,” these patients might respond with “sweet.” When such lists were
repeated, controls responded more accurately, than they had before, while midtemporal-damaged patients
made about the same number of errors, suggesting that each test was a new test to them. Interestingly,
Korsakoff’s patients increasingly included theme words. This suggests that Korsakoff’s patients retain the
overall subject or meaning, but not specific markers. Confabulation retains the overall meaning or theme,
but lacks the specifics.
In Korsakoff’s patients, the primary lesions described by Malamud and Skinner, were thought by
Malerstein & Belden (1968) to be negative reinforcers—that is, if they were stimulated, a person would
Finding a Memory
When I see someone I know and want to address by name, or when I am
trying to remember something or trying to solve a problem, I am often not conscious
of any of the links that are part of the reconstruction. The name, the memory, or the
solution just pops into my mind. At other times when I cannot immediately recall
someone s name, I cast about through my experiences with the person. I may think
of where I first met him. I may ask myself what we did together when I last saw him,
and so on. The name may then come to mind. At times, I may have to get in touch
with my feelings about the person whether I like or dislike him. A similar trolling
takes place when I try to recall other memories or attempt to solve a problem.
Usually I do not know why a particular idea or feeling calls up the answer.
Piaget 1962 recounted an example of his being aware of some of the
constructive process in seeking a memory, a memory which at the same time solved a
problem. That is, the seeking of the memory was an example of reasoning. He was in
a hurry, and used his handkerchief to wipe some oil from the steering wheel of his
automobile. Rather than soil his pocket, he wedged the handkerchief deeply into
the crevice between the seats. The windshield control of his car was defective. He
could only leave the windshield completely open or shut. One day it was too warm to
leave it shut and raining too hard to leave it completely open. He tired of holding
the windshield open with his hand and was unable to find an object to hold the
windshield open. Then, he noted the angle formed by the windshield and an upright
part of the car body. Seeing the angle as a solution, he found himself automatically
reaching into an angle the crevice for his handkerchief.
Here are some other examples of being able to catch sight of the parts that go
into retrieving a memory and problem solving.78 I live in a neighborhood of many
cars and few garages. I have parked on the street thousands of times in almost every
conceivable location within a four block radius of my house. I have several patterns
that I follow when I search for an open parking space, though sometimes these
patterns disintegrate on an evening when the search is extended and has become
random. At the time when I park, I usually make no special effort to remember
where I parked. I wish to get into the house after a long day, and I simply assume
that I will find the car in the morning. Occasionally in the morning, I am at a
complete loss. I am left to retrace my usual patterns of looking for a parking space.
I may remember where I parked the night before only when I actually find the car.
I would like to detail the intermediate states when I cannot remember where
I parked the night before. In one instance, after I left the front door and as I
walked, I started to remember. My first thought was that I had parked in a very
unusual place. Then, I immediately remembered that, as I parked, I commented to
myself, This spot has almost never been vacant in my 20 years in the
neighborhood . I could then visualize the spot and the act of parking.
One morning before I left the house, as I was thinking about this problem, I
remembered that the previous night I had backed my car downhill to park in a tight
space between two cars. The car behind me was parked illegally on the corner. I
could visualize the truck in front and the car behind. At first, I thought that the
corner was the corner across the street from my house. Then I remembered that the
actual parking space was on a similar corner a block away. It was only then that I
recalled that I had not driven my car at all. I had driven my daughter s car. Mine, in
need of repair, was parked elsewhere. So, when I was remembering parking, I was
find it noxious. More recently, it has been found that parts of the periaqueductal gray are positive
reinforcers (Solms & Turnbull, 2002). Damaged reinforcers would impair precise remembering and could
account for confabulation. Korsakoff’s syndrome remains an intriguing puzzle.
This account appears in an earlier work (Malerstein, 1986) in slightly different form.
not remembering the car that was put in a particular space, and the space itself was
not the space that I had first remembered. The search for a car that was parked was
more a search for a means of getting back and forth than it was a search for a
Another morning as once again I was baffled by the mystery of the parked
car, I remembered that I had to give a message to one of my daughters. This
message was not from someone at college, where she had been living. It was from
someone here at home. As I remembered who had called out to me, I also
remembered the content of his message, and what had happened the previous night.
I had met him as I walked home from the parked car. I was then able to proceed to
find the car.
In retrieval of a memory, these steps in remembering were cognitive samples
that appeared in consciousness samples of what I assume was a widespread
unconscious reconstruction of the memory of the car and where I parked it. Each
time, the car and its location were constructed out of different parts an unusual
parking space, a spatial configuration, a message for my daughter, and, I assume,
many parts that I was not conscious of. The image, or memory, of parking the car
may never be constructed of the exactly the same parts. Hence it is probably never
constructed of the exact same neuronal circuits, or schemes, and these are
necessarily widespread, because their contents are diverse. Of course, the parked car
that I construct or reconstruct is not parked on the street so much as it is parked in
my head, built less of steel and plastic than of my experiences of it.
Memories are not kept in some repository somewhere. Many investigators
now agree that memories are constructed, and that each time we remember
something, the memory must be reconstructed.79 I also propose that the memory
may be reconstructed of different parts, and that these parts are widespread.
What would consolidation be like in such a widespread system? How might
one measure it?
Hoffman and McNaughton 2002 have begun to test the theory that
memories are consolidated in widespread regions of the cerebral cortex regions
that maintain a relationship to one another, part of that relationship being temporal
order. They implanted large arrays of electrodes in individual neurons in the left
posterior parietal and motor areas, and the right somatosensory and prefrontal areas
of a monkey s cerebral cortex. They recorded cell activity during three time
intervals an initial rest period, a period when the monkey learned a sequential
reaching task, and a second rest period. About 20 of the neurons in the four
different areas of the cerebral cortex had electrical responses that were related to the
reaching task. In the posterior parietal, in the motor, and in the somatosensory areas,
activity of neurons during the learning period correlated with activity of the same
neurons during the second rest period. This suggests that there is ongoing,
widespread, though related, cortical activity after the behavior ceased. During the
second rest period, the investigators also found that activity of the neurons of the
posterior parietal, of the motor, and of the somatosensory areas correlated within
each area and between each area. This finding suggests that these three areas
maintain some sort of relationship both within each area and between each of these
areas. Additionally, they found some sequential relationships between cells within
the motor area and between cells within the somatosensory area, as well as between
Sometimes our reconstructions are faulty. In recent years, this has had serious consequences for persons
convicted of molesting children based on those children’s memories many years later. Piaget (1962) had a
vivid memory of having been kidnapped at the age of 2. His memory was based on a story that his nanny
told to his parents. Some years later, the nanny confessed that she had made up the story to provide an
excuse for bringing the boy home late. In this instance, Piaget’s vivid memory was constructed out of
having heard the story.
cells in the motor area and cells in the posterior parietal area. These findings suggest
there is some order of organization between different parts of areas and between
different areas. Finally, they found no correlations of activations of cells of the
prefrontal cortex with any of the other measures. The fact that these findings were
confined to certain areas, and that activations of cells in the prefrontal cortex did not
correlate with any of the other measures, suggests that the post task activations are
selective. Although the activations are widespread, they are not helter skelter
throughout the cerebral cortex.
There is psychological, and now neurophysiological, support for the idea that
memory is recorded in widespread neuronal circuit activation. Thinking and
reasoning consists of finding the right memory in the right order for a particular set
of internal and external circumstances. When I am trying to answer a question and
making no progress, yet think that I might know the answer, like most people I
know, I set it aside. I put it on the back burner. In a few days or a few weeks, an
answer may occur to me.
It is hard to explain such events without proposing that unconscious
processes were working on the problem in the interim.
In the next section, I will discuss two conditions that might be problems for
my theory that consciousness is constructed from the waking state. These
conditions are the dream state and the persistent vegetative state.
Dreams and the Persistent Vegetative States
When we dream, we are asleep. Yet we are conscious. Someone might ask,
How do you know that we are conscious when we are dreaming? I know it,
because when I wake up or when I am awakened, especially during a particular stage
of sleep, I will generally give a report of what I was doing or watching and so on in
my dream. If I was not conscious while I was dreaming, there is no reason to believe
me when I say that I am conscious now while I am writing.
If consciousness is constructed from the waking state, how can we be sleeping
and yet be conscious? How could my proposal that we develop our sense of
consciousness from the waking state the facilitation of cerebral circuit excitability
by activation of the RAS be valid? When we are not awake, what gives the
attribute of consciousness to our dreaming cognition?
When someone is in a persistent vegetative state, that person is in coma
that is, unconscious. Yet the person has what appears to be a sleep wake cycle. If, as
I propose, consciousness is constructed from the waking state, how is it possible for
someone to be in a vegetative state to be unconscious and yet to be awake some
of the time?
Consciousness While Asleep: Dreams
First, I will discuss dreams consciousness, while asleep. Many things about
dreaming are understood better now than they were when Freud wrote The
Interpretation of Dreams. We have learned that even people, who say that they never
dream, dream four or five times a night. If they are wakened during a sleep state
when we expect to elicit a dream report, they will report a typical dream. In the
morning, they will not remember that they dreamt. Freud had no reason to think
that we dream as often and as regularly as we do. He thought that dreams were
instantaneous. Now, we know that each dream lasts 15 or 20 minutes. Yet, when it
came to understanding the structure and content of dreams, Freud did not do badly.
To study sleep, investigators rely on the EEG, behavioral observation, and
sleep deprivation. In sleep deprivation studies, they keep the person or animal
awake for longer than is usual for the subject, and then note if the subject s EEG or
Through the use of EEG recordings, we have learned that sleep occurs in five
stages: rapid eye movement REM sleep the stage from which dreams are readily
elicited and four stages of nonrapid eye movement NREM sleep. When we fall
asleep, we pass through the stages in a relatively orderly fashion: stages 1 through 4 of
NREM followed by REM. Thereafter, the cycle of NREM usually skipping stage 1
and REM is repeated four or five times a night. At each succeeding stage of NREM,
we are more deeply asleep that is, more difficult to waken. When we are in REM
sleep, we are wakened a bit more easily. The percentage of time spent in REM sleep
decreases with age. REM sleep is sometimes called paradoxical sleep, because the
brain waves are low voltage and desynchronized an EEG pattern that looks the
same as the waking EEG pattern. During REM sleep, the person is paralyzed,
except for the muscles of the diaphragm and those that control the ear ossicles and
the eyes. NREM sleep is sometimes referred to as slow wave sleep because it is
characterized by generalized low frequency, high voltage EEG waves.
At one time, it was thought that REM deprivation resulted in severe mental
disturbance. This is no longer thought to be true Rechtschaffen & Seigel, 2000 .
However, total sleep deprivation for 4 or 5 days may result in a clinical picture that
resembles paranoid schizophrenia Bonnet, 2000 . This state abates after the person
has had adequate sleep.
In a sleep laboratory, dreams may be elicited 80 to 90 of the time when
a person is wakened during REM sleep Vogel, Foulkes, & Trosman, 1969;
Rechtshaffen & Siegel, 2000 . What we usually think of as a dream is the kind of
cognitive processing that is most often elicited when we are wakened from REM
sleep, particularly from the last REM period of the night, or what we may remember
in the morning.
In recent years, less distinction has been drawn between the kinds of reports
that are elicited from subjects when awakened from REM sleep and the kinds of
reports that are elicited from subjects when awakened from NREM sleep.
Nonetheless, the report that is elicited when a person is awakened from NREM
sleep is more like ordinary thinking, and it is generally elicited only about 50 , or,
at most, 70 , of the time. NREM reports are shorter, less vivid, less emotional, and
more coherent than REM dreams or what we ordinarily recall in the morning when
we dream at home a home dream.
Although there is no absolute distinction between reports elicited during
REM and those elicited during NREM, they are qualitatively different. When I use
the term dream, I am referring to home dreams or reports elicited during REM,
particularly REM period that occurs near the time of waking. Such dreams may
include intense emotions and usually involve visual imagery; they do not often
involve spoken language. Typically, they are incongruous to us when we are awake.
When we are dreaming, we may be in shifting, strange, or ill defined locations, roles,
and relationships. Our behavior and the situations that we are in during dreaming
often seem impossible or uncharacteristic once we are awake. Nonetheless, strange
as the dream may be, when we are dreaming, we generally accept the content of our
dreams as real.80 Why such dreams usually occur during REM is not known. In fact,
following damage to the right lingual lobe an association area between the visual
and auditory areas an elderly woman no longer dreamed and yet had normal REM
cycling Grimm, 2004 . Apparently in an adult, dreaming and REM may be
disassociated, and damage to the lingual gyrus may block dreaming.
If we make an effort to recognize that we are dreaming—that it is only a dream—when we are dreaming,
we can learn to do so—a condition known as lucid dreaming. One of my colleagues reported that, when he
dreams, he always knows that he is dreaming.
Sleep and Dreams as Partial Shutdowns
Although we know more than we once did about sleep and dreaming, no
consensus exists regarding the purpose of either one. Sleep is a potentially dangerous
state. We are almost completely paralyzed during REM. Our sensory systems are not
as responsive during sleep as they are when we are awake, although our diminished
sensitivity is selective. For example, a sleeping mother may respond to her infant s
cry and not respond to the cry of another infant. Partial shutdowns of our motor
and sensory systems leave us vulnerable. Yet we need to sleep.
The most common and most intuitive explanation is that sleep is restorative.
Zepelin 2000, p. 85 argued that the restorative theory cannot readily explain the
dramatic interspecies variations in daily mammalian sleep quotas. Indeed, there is a
wide variation from the horse that sleeps 3 hours a day, 1/2 an hour of which is
REM, to the opossum that sleeps 18 hours a day, 5 hours of which is REM.
However, the purpose of sleep could still be restorative if restoration depended on
the variation in what had to be restored, and on the variation in the efficiency of the
restoration for each species.
To Freud, the purpose of the dream was wish fulfillment he believed that
dreams were disguised wishes. He proposed that the dream process involved
representation by opposites, condensation, displacement, and symbolism.81 He
proposed that dream content had manifest and latent meaning, and that dreams
often included day s residue references to happenings of the previous day. Basically,
Jung 1969 accepted Freud s ideas about dreams. However, he proposed that the
purpose of dreams was compensatory that dreams provided a balance between the
conscious and the unconscious. Jung posited that the Conscious and Unconscious
being balanced was necessary for mental wellbeing.
Rechtshaffen and Siegel 2000 minimized the significance of day s residue
when they pointed out that subjects who were deprived of liquids for 24 hours often
did not dream of thirst, and that only 30 of their dreams contained references to
drinking. Wish fulfillment does not explain why we dream. However, the references
to drinking in 30 of the dreams confirms Freud s proposal that dreams involve wish
fulfillment, day s residue, disguise or defense, and even representation by opposites
that is, being thirsty, but drinking in the dream. The references to drinking also fit
Jung s proposal that dreams may be compensatory.
Some dream researchers have postulated that we consolidate our memories
during REM. Siegal 2001, p. 1063 concluded that the existing literature does not
indicate a major role for REM sleep in memory consolidation.
I think that we probably cognize order, consolidate, and retrieve all the
time, whether we are awake or asleep. What varies is the quality of our cognizing
that we are conscious of.
Animals other than mammals have been studied for clues as to why we sleep.
The EEGs of fish when they appear to rest compared to when they are active are
difficult to determine and remain unclear Tobler, 2000. P. 78 . When subjected
to 4 days of light, carp appeared to rest more quickly than usual when the light was
turned off. When subjected to 6 to 12 hours of light during a habitual rest period,
perch exhibited increased duration of rest.
Tobler 2000 reported that reptiles, birds, and mammals show both
behavioral and EEG sleep differences. When reptiles are kept awake by stroking,
handling, or gently tugging on their leash, more stimulation is required to keep them
awake as the time goes by, and when they are allowed to sleep, they become limp
very quickly. The reptile s EEG shows more spikes during the sleep state than
during the awake state. Following sleep deprivation, EEG spiking increased during
Symbolism necessarily includes condensation and displacement.
sleep. It has been suggested that the reptilian spikes and sharp waves have a
functional similarity to slow waves in mammalian sleep. Reptiles appear to have
awake and asleep states.
It is probable that both REM and NREM will be found in all mammals and
birds, although the frequency and the amount of time spent in each state varies
greatly. Most interesting are the EEGs of dolphins, seals, and manatees mammals
that have returned to the sea. They show high voltage slow wave sleep on one side
of the brain while they show a pattern that resembles waking on the other side of the
brain. In both seals and manatees, one sided REM sleep has been recorded, and
there is some suggestion that one sided REM sleep occurs in dolphins Zepelin,
2000 . This one sided sleep is a clue to why we sleep that I will return to.
Intuitively, many of us believe that the function of sleep is to rest the body
and the brain. We feel refreshed on waking from a good night s sleep and feel tired
on waking from a poor night s sleep. If we get no sleep for 24 to 48 hours, our
thinking and behavior may be impaired. After more than 8 days of sleep deprivation,
subjects may show nystagmus a type of jerky movement of the eyes , their hands
may shake, and their speech becomes slurred Bonnet, 2000 . The normal reflexive
closing of the eyelids when the cornea of the eye is touched may become sluggish,
and other reflexes may become hyperactive. Clearly, our function is impaired when
we are deprived of sleep.
Rats that were deprived of sleep, died in about 15 days Bonnet, 2000 . If the
rats were allowed to rest their bodies, but were prevented from falling asleep, they
did not survive longer: Rest of the body did not substitute for sleep. REM sleep
deprived rats lived only about twice as long.82 I assume that humans would also not
survive if they were subject to comparable conditions.
We appear to need to sleep in order to rest both the body and the brain in
order for each to recover neurophysiologically from being awake, just as muscles
must recover physiologically from being active. However, if one of the purposes of
sleep is to rest the brain, how can I account for the fact that the brain is very active
during sleep? In fact, the metabolic rate of the brain is higher during REM sleep
than it is during the waking state. Because the brain is very active during sleep, some
investigators have discounted the idea that one function of sleep is to rest the brain.
One way to make sense of this situation is to assume that it is deleterious to
brain function to shut down the entire brain in order to allow it to rest. If
maintaining information in the brain depends on maintaining ongoing relationships
between circuits, or schemes as I have described, and as studies such as
Merzenich s have found then a complete shutdown would indeed be damaging.
With a complete shutdown, all past information and what to do with it would be
lost. As I noted earlier in this chapter, information in the brain appears to be
content addressable not physical point localizable as is information in books and
in computers. One can close a book, open it, and go to the exact same spot as often
as one likes. It is still there in black and white. One can shut down a computer and
reopen it later as many times until parts of it wear out as one likes and institute the
same command to find the letter a or the number 2. One can do this because every
piece of information and what to do with it has a discrete physical location or set of
locations a mechanical switch, or set of switches, that is on or off.
It is plausible that the compromise solution that evolved for the brain of
mammals and of birds was to rest different parts of itself at different times. As I just
noted, dolphins, seals, and manatees mammals that have returned to the sea rest
one side of the brain at a time. Land based mammals may have found a different
method of resting their brains, a part at a time. Or as Tobler 2000, p. 76 said,
The cause of death was not clear.
sleep may be a local phenomenon leading to recuperation of those regions that were
most active during waking. 83
If this is true, our stages of sleep, including REM or dream sleep, can be seen
as partial shutdowns. I propose that cognitive processing is taking place at all times.
Depending on what is not shut down, one or another sample of cognitive processing
is exposed that is, may be conscious. During dreaming, access to the motor system
is blocked, and certain inhibiting cognitive motivational and sensory systems are
diminished. If dreams are merely a sample of cognitive processing during a partial shutdown
of the brain, it is irrelevant to ask what the purpose of dreaming is.
I think that dreams give us a glimpse of how things tend to be catalogued and
processed unconsciously. The cataloguing is more orderly when we are awake or in
the reports we give when we are awakened from NREM sleep or when we are
awakened from the first REM period of the night . I think that a dream with a
piece here and a piece there and two seemingly disparate pieces that are usually tied
together to form a story is simply a sample of our unconscious cognitive emotional
I propose that we cognize using widespread areas of the cerebral cortex at all
times, but we consciously cognize differently in our different states.85 The rules for
processing and cataloguing, and our access to the cataloguing, vary with the state we
My proposal is that the dream state is a partial shutdown during which we get
a glimpse of the unconscious cataloguing process and of some of the unconscious
content. Freud believed that the purpose of dreams was wish fulfillment. I propose
that dreams have no inherent psychological purpose, that the purpose of dreams is
physiological the resting of certain parts of the brain.
Nonetheless, I think that Freud was correct when he said that the dream is
the royal road to the unconscious that is, the dream, especially the morning dream,
is one of the best roads that we have to understanding unconscious cognition and
emotion and how they are processed. Dreams offer us a glimpse of parts of our self
that we ordinarily do not see.
The Persistent Vegetative State
Karen Ann Quinlan was 21 when her heart stopped beating and she stopped
breathing following her ingestion of prescription drugs and alcohol Kinney et al.,
1994 . After she was resuscitated, her pulse and breathing returned. However, she
never regained consciousness. She remained in a coma and on life support. Over the
following year, she increasingly required the assistance of a pulmonary ventilator.
With much legal difficulty and with national attention, her family succeeded in
getting the court to allow her ventilator to be disconnected. After the ventilator was
Siegel (2003) suggested that REM sleep allows neuronal receptors to recuperate from the constant
activation by monoamine neurotransmitters during waking, and that non-REM sleep allows repair of cell
membranes from damage by free radicals generated by metabolism of cells.
This idea is similar to what Antrobus (2000) refers to as his connectionist theory.
Why the dream ties these pieces together into a story is a question that Fabrice Clement raised when he
read this book. Maybe it is as Piaget proposed. To be conscious, even in a dream, the idea must conform
somewhat to dominant understandings. Similarly, Bleuler (1952), in his classic studies of schizophrenia,
proposed that hallucinations and delusions were not primary symptoms. Rather they dealt with—made
some sort of sense of—the primary disturbance of associations.
This is true except perhaps in NREM sleep at the times when we get no report, or during epileptic
episodes when regular repeated high-voltage electrical spikes interfere with the ordinary waking activity of
neuronal circuit activation, and with the communication among circuits.
disconnected, Karen Ann continued to breathe on her own for a number of years.
But she remained comatose.
She opened her eyes to sound and withdrew her limbs in response to a
pinprick. But opening one s eyes to sound and massive withdrawal to pinprick are
built in reflex responses.
By all measures she was unconscious. However, of particular interest here was
the observation that, measured by her EEG, she had a sleep wake cycle. Slow wave
activity the pattern that is characteristic of NREM sleep cycled with Beta
activity 13 30 waves per second a frequency that is common when a person is
awake Kinney et al., 1994 .
At the time of her death, Karen Ann s brain showed widespread damage,
which was probably unrelated to her original coma. The brain lesion that was
thought to be responsible for her coma was bilateral damage to the intralaminar
nuclei ILN of the thalamus Kinney et al., 1994 . The ILN are the primary synaptic
relay stations in the thalamus for the reticular activating system RAS . The ILN
cells connect to widespread areas in the cortex, bridging the RAS to the cerebral
cortex. Damage to Karen Ann s ILN varied: It was mild to the parafascicular nuclei,
moderate to the centromedial nuclei, and severe to all other intralaminar nuclei.
Bogen 1995a, 1995b proposed that Karen Ann s coma resulted from the
bilateral damage to the intralaminar nuclei. His proposal is basically the same as my
proposal that essentially equates consciousness with the waking state, since impulses
from the RAS pass through synaptic relays in the ILN before reaching the cerebral
cortex. Bogen s and my proposals differ in one respect, however. Bogen proposed
that the subjective aspect of consciousness was also a product of the ILN that is,
that the self was a prewired component of the ILN.
In keeping with Piaget s findings, I propose that consciousness of the self is
developed. As I explained in chapters 2, 4, and 5, a semblance of self is first manifest
in Stage 4 of the Sensorimotor Period, and a more definitive sense of self is manifest
in Stage 6, although the self is more fully defined in the Concrete Operational
I think Bogen was mistaken in attributing consciousness of self to the ILN.
If consciousness is the product of RAS activity the facilitation of activation of the
cerebral cortical circuitry during the waking state and if the activity in the RAS
must pass through the ILN, then bilateral damage to the ILN would eliminate all
forms of consciousness, including differentiated consciousness of self.
We are left with the question, if consciousness is waking state schemes, as I
propose, how do I reconcile Karen Ann s being awake that is, having a waking
EEG at times with the fact that she was continuously unconscious? There are
One possibility is that during the period in which Karen Ann had no
heartbeat and was not breathing, much of her established neuronal circuitry became
near random that, unlike what happens during sleep, she was shut down too
completely for too long.
Another possibility is that mechanisms other than the usual ones were able to
induce a sleep wake cycle in Karen Ann, but that their operation was insufficient to
restore her consciousness. It is not unusual throughout the body, including the brain,
to have backup systems to compensate for a system that is impaired. It is possible
that when passage of impulses from the RAS to the cerebral cortex was blocked by
damage to the ILN, another route between the two was found. There are known
systems that could pinch hit for the RAS s main route. The RAS has extrathalamic
relays through the hypothalamus and basal forebrain to widespread areas of the
cerebral cortex Jones, 2000 . It seems less likely that the brain stem nuclei that
secrete neurotransmitter chemicals would account for Karen Ann s sleep wake cycle.
The raphe nuclei, which secrete serotonin, are active during deep sleep. The locus
ceruleus, which secretes norepinephrine, is active during the awake state. Both sets
of nuclei were intact in Karen Ann. However, Steriade 2000 found that bilateral
removal of the locus ceruleus does not affect the waking state EEG.
Kinsbourne 1995 offered an explanation of Karen Ann s state that differed
from Bogen s. Kinsbourne suggested that she might have suffered from bilateral
neglect. Kinsbourne s explanation does not conflict with my proposal. If
Kinsbourne s explanation is correct, waking could remain integral to consciousness.
Karen Ann would then have had a highly limited kind of consciousness.
A person who exhibits unilateral neglect does not process input from, or
output to, one side of his or her world. Unilateral neglect of the left side is most
easily recognized. A person who exhibits left sided neglect may fail to put on his left
sleeve when dressing, may draw a clock face with all the numbers crowded onto the
right side of the clock face, and may be unable to see things situated to his left. The
usual cause of left sided neglect is damage to the right parietal region of the cerebral
cortex.86 Measured by auditory comprehension, Lecours et al. 1987 showed that
strokes involving the left hemisphere resulted in right sided neglect.
Although unilateral neglect is usually due to damage to the parietal lobe of the
cerebral cortex, Watson, Valenstein, and Heilman 1981 reported a patient whose
unilateral neglect resulted from unilateral damage to the thalamus. Apparently,
Kinsbourne reasoned that if unilateral damage to the thalamus could cause unilateral
neglect, then bilateral damage to the thalamus could cause bilateral neglect. A
person who had bilateral neglect might experience no input or output. Would that
person s consciousness be confined to memories a profound loss of
consciousness but not complete unconsciousness? How long would those
memories last if there were no input or output? It is more probable, however, that
bilateral neglect would not result in no input or output, but result in the person s
operating as if all of visual life is straight ahead Balint s syndrome which is
caused by bilateral damage of the parietal areas.
In chapter 4, I addressed two fundamental questions how is conscious
cognition derived from matter and how does conscious cognition influence matter?
In chapters 4 and 5, I outlined my theory that consciousness is constructed from the
waking state. In this chapter, I discussed the relationship between conscious and
unconscious cognition, and the widespread, content addressable memory system,
which is largely unconscious. Finally, I explained my approach to the problems that
dreams and the persistent vegetative state present for my theory that consciousness
is constructed from the waking state.
In the next chapter, I will describe ideas based on Ahern s and my work as
clinicians. These ideas involve a theory of character structure formation that relates
to developmental psychology, especially three of Piaget s stages of cognitive
Oddly, if only one point of light is flashed in the neglected left visual field, the person will see it. If two
points of light are flashed in the same field, he will see only the one on the right (Driver & Vuilleumier,
2001). If he turns his head or his body, this modifies what he can see in the neglected visual field. It is as
if the intact left side of the brain has been programmed not to respond to information that would ordinarily
come to the right side of the brain: Visual information, which would ordinarily go to the damaged right
visual system, remains the property of the right side of the brain and is to be ignored.
Without such early programming, would we see two visions of each scene and hear two separate sounds
from our ears, rather than be sensitive to sudden changes in the periphery of our vision, or to the bilateral
air vibrations that strike our ears to recognize where the vibrations come from? This inhibition of
functions, could be initially based on which impulses arrive first to a cortical region. This possibility is
supported by experiments done on chicks. Before a chick is hatched, exposing an eye to light stimuli
results in that eye being dominant (Vallortigara & Rogers, 2004). If that is the case, the inhibition should
potentially be reversible, and could account for the improvements in stroke victims that result from restraint
of the intact side, or from resection of the damaged area of the brain.
development. The theory is consonant with the quality of the Preoperational Period,
when the organizations of neuronal circuitry are uncommitted, and to a time during which
complete myelination of the auditory tracts to the cerebral cortex could induce one of
those organizations of neuronal circuitry to become stabilized.